New rule would fall under unnecessary roughness

Updated: March 15, 2005, 6:24 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The NFL Competition Committee meeting in Hawaii this week will recommend that blind-side plays on "unsuspecting" players -- such as Warren Sapp's block on Packers tackle Chad Clifton on a punt return two years ago -- should be banished under the rules, league sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen on Tuesday.

If the proposal is adopted by owners at next week's league meetings in Maui, it will be specifically written into a broader interpretation of the unnecessary roughness rule.

The proposed change came as the result of continued dialogue stemming from Sapp's block on Clifton during a game between the Buccaneers and Packers on Nov. 24, 2003, in Tampa. The play on which Clifton was injured occured in the third quarter, on an interception by cornerback Brian Kelly, and far removed from the action. Video showed that Sapp launched himself into the unsuspecting Clifton, who had his head turned and appeared to be slowing down.Clifton missed the remainder of the 2003 season with severe pelvic injuries.

Another play that pushed the committee into action came on a 2004 Monday Night Football game, when Broncos offensive tackle George Foster dislocated the ankle of Bengals defensive linemen Tony Williams who, under the new interpretation, would have been an "unsuspecting player" because the play was beyond him. However, there will be no changes on the controversial cut blocks that are allowed within the designated blocking zone.

Also under discussion this week is the specific "horse collar" tackle by Cowboys safety Roy Williams that broke the leg of Eagles receiver Terrell Owens. Williams injured four players with that specific technique, a committee member said Tuesday, and those incidents were still being debated by the committee.

Chris Mortensen covers the NFL for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.