Hair length proposal delayed until May; defensive helmet radios approved

Updated: April 1, 2008, 5:03 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Kansas City Chiefs' proposal calling for all players to tuck or cut long hair so it doesn't hang below the nameplate on their uniform was tabled until the next NFL owners meeting in May.

In delaying any vote on the hair issue, the NFL will have time to listen to feedback from the players association.

"We had a pretty good feeling it was going to get tabled," Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said at the NFL owners meetings. "We have to take it to the union to consider. That's OK. I think as long as the players know they can discuss it. Basically what we're looking at is a discussion. In our opinion, it's a violation of the dress code."

In a separate move, the competition committee picked up three more votes this year and passed the "coach-to-defense" signal-calling system 25-7.

Defensive coaches now will have the ability to put radio speakers in two helmets, but only one of those helmets will be allowed on the field on a given play.

"We want to safeguard against a situation with two players on the field at the same time with the helmet communication," said Atlanta Falcons president and competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay.

"We are talking about a three-down player, perhaps a linebacker who doesn't come off the field," added Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, the other co-chairman of the committee that recommended instituting the device. Fisher has just such a player in Keith Bulluck.

"In the event he goes down because of an injury, we'd identify our backup player as another three-down player."

Fisher noted this change won't eliminate entirely the need for signals from the sideline, something that pretty much has disappeared for offenses.

"The defense will still have need to signal in a hurry-up situation, where the ball is snapped very early," he said.

Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said passing this measure a year ago might have prevented the recent Spygate controversy from happening.

"They were filming signals," Phillips said of the Patriots. "If you didn't have any signals, it wouldn't have happened. I'm just happy to get something passed. That way you don't have to worry about it. People were putting towels up in front of people. You shouldn't have to play football that way."

New England coach Bill Belichick, whose involvement in the Spygate scandal that included taping opposing coaches' defensive signals made the communication device a hotter topic, voted for the proposal.

"I've been for that ever since the thing with the quarterbacks came out," Belichick said. "The problem is just how to do it. The concept of it is fine, but the logistics of it are a little bit of a different story. You don't always have a quarterback in the game on defense, like you do on offense. It's a little bit of a different setup.

"There is a substitution issue. Even the way it's proposed now if you have a middle linebacker like Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis, or somebody like that who played on every single play on defense as kind of the equivalent of the offensive quarterback, then that's one thing. A lot of teams don't have that, and I'd say we would fall into that category."

A year ago, the committee, which has been pushing the system for three years, had 22 votes, two shy of passing. At an NFL owners meeting, it takes nine votes to defeat a proposal.

The Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins voted against defensive radio helmets.

Buffalo Bills coach Dick Jauron, a longtime supporter of the idea, believes it will balance the ledgers as far as coordination of the offenses and defenses. He believed the offense had an edge by having a way to communicate plays to a quarterback, while the defense had to react by making just hand signals.

Although the defensive radio helmet issue was a great story for the coaches, the bigger, more controversial story involved hair. Many players who have long hair are believed to be upset with the idea being pushed by the Chiefs. It's created a national discussion.

"It's like a fish story," Edwards said. "It started as a guppy. When it got to New York, it was a whale. Everyone kept adding to the story."

The idea came from within the Chiefs organization, which believed excessive hair was a dress code violation.

The Chiefs' proposal was submitted in early March, and players had not had a chance to discuss the issue before this week's NFL meetings.

"There is a certain way we feel the uniform should be portrayed," Edwards said. "That's why we brought it up. I think we are all na´ve if we don't know who those guys are. We are talking about uniform violations in our opinions. There were a lot of years players didn't have names on the backs of their jerseys. All of a sudden, you get it, and you cover it up. When I was growing up playing football, you looked at pro football players and said, 'I can't wait to get my name on the jersey.' Now, you get it on the back and you cover it up."

At least in the eyes of the Chiefs, they made their case. The league will listen to the players and reopen the dialogue in the May meeting in Atlanta.

Mike Pereira, NFL VP of officiating, said there were 92 reversals on instant replay challenges last year, representing 38 percent of the total coaches' and booth challenges. That was up from 34 percent in 2006 and 31 percent in 2005.

"My concerns are when the number of reversals goes up," Pereira admitted. "We take a look at that, where the number is going up."

Pereira also wondered if the "level of respect has gone down" between players, coaches and game officials. He cited several instances where players either got into shouting matches with officials or, in Baltimore, when Ravens linebacker Bart Scott picked up a penalty flag and tossed it through the end zone after disagreeing with a critical late call in a loss to New England.

"We have to work not to get in those situations," Pereira said. "I agree both sides are at fault.

"We'll spend more time in training camps and before games talking to players, get involved before it gets out of hand."

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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