Commentary

NFL should consider these rule changes

Originally Published: March 25, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

For safety reasons, the NFL went retro and moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35, a rule that was in place in 1993.

With the competition committee being so bold, I thought it was time for me to take advantage of this creative time and come up with the five rule changes I would make if I were on the committee. Here they are:

1. Move the trade deadline to the Tuesday before Thanksgiving: If the NFL can modernize replay, it can modernize regular-season trades. Little is defined when the NFL trade deadline ends six weeks into the season. All the other major sports have a trade deadline in the second half of their season. Why not the NFL? Trades offer either upgrades for winning teams or future hope for losing teams. When a team is 2-4, 3-3 or 4-2, it doesn't know what it is. Draft choices are precious, and a losing team in November can dump contracts and upgrade its hopes for next season with a few strategic draft-choice acquisitions. A Super Bowl contender such as the Packers would have had until November to debate whether to trade for a running back to replace an injured Ryan Grant. If NFL rules applied to the baseball schedule, the trade deadline would be only 61 games into a 162-game campaign.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Matt Campbell/AFP/Getty ImagesThe rule book rescued Tom Brady and the Patriots in the famous "tuck rule" game on Jan. 19, 2002.

2. Revise the tuck rule: The NFL is always going to design its game for the eyes of the officials more than the lens of a camera, and that's good. Humans officiate. Instant replay validates. I know the officials technically got it right in the 2001 playoffs when Tom Brady's stripped ball was ruled an incompletion, not a fumble, because of language in the rule book regarding where the quarterback has the ball positioned. But come on, man! That was a fumble. Replay was set up so the fan in the bar can look across the room and determine a fumble from an incompletion. Now that replay has been modernized, let's change the interpretation of the tuck rule, because that type of strip will be challenged by one of the coaches because it's a change-of-possession play. Under my rule change, if the quarterback is moving his arm forward and the ball is stripped, it's a fumble. Other than maybe Tim Tebow, quarterbacks don't throw the ball from near the belt. Quarterbacks are protected from hits to the head and legs. They don't need the tuck rule to protect them from turnovers.

3. Give Calvin Johnson the touchdown: This would be a rule change for 2012 now that replay officials are confirming every score. The current interpretation of a reception is that a receiver has to maintain control of the ball until he comes to the ground. The league envisions the receiver maintaining control of the ball to the point that he would be able to hand it to the official. The league wants the eyes of the officials to be predominant. Now, replay officials judge every score. The image of the receiver being able to hand the ball to the official doesn't need to apply anymore. I'll make the recommendation for 2012 that once the receiver gets two feet in bounds, catches the ball and controls it as he gets to the ground, it's a touchdown. Hi-def replay makes that clear enough. You can see it across the bar and say, "Catch."

4. Personnel updates: Training-camp rosters need to grow from 80 to 90 as long as teams maintain a preseason of four games. A ninth practice squad spot needs to be created to mandate that each team has a developmental quarterback. This would be tied into a plan in which the NFL has a developmental league and each team commits a quarterback and some young players to participate. Too many young quarterbacks never get a chance to play. I'd also increase the 45-man active roster to at least 47. The 45-man roster forces tough decisions for teams on whether to keep only seven offensive linemen active or five defensive linemen if the team runs a 3-4. The reason traditionalists resist expanding the active roster is because the injured teams would be at a serious disadvantage against healthy teams. You pay 53, so why sit eight when some can upgrade special teams or spell banged-up starters?

5. Don't disturb the flow of the no-huddle: This doesn't require a rule change as much as it requires officiating execution. More quarterbacks are going to use more no-huddle plays to keep defenses off balance or limit situational substitution. The move to put the umpire in the backfield, though, caused the ball to be spotted slowly numerous times, and that disturbed the flow of the no-huddle. The matter is easy to solve. Just have the nearest official at the end of a play spot the ball and have the referee move up quickly to set the play in motion. When a team is in no-huddle, though, what can't happen is replay challenges for the spot of a ball. No-huddle is fast-break football. Don't sweat the little things like ball-spot challenges, particularly if the call is coming from the replay booth.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer