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Recapping NFL Rule Changes for 2018: Work Only Beginning

The NFL's Annual League Meeting in Florida is a wrap, but some major work has only just begun.

Representatives from all 32 teams convened and approved a total of seven rule changes for the 2018 season, including one that wasn't on the initial agenda but quickly gained steam in order to reduce the number of players initiating contact with their helmets.

That proposal was introduced and approved on Tuesday after a discussion between NFL officials, Owners, head coaches and general managers. It will still need some massaging with regard to how it is officiated and if it will be assessed through ejections and fines.  

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Senior Vice President of Officiating Alberto Riveron on Wednesday described a consensus among teams that the rule needed to be created by removing conditional statements in the league's crown-of-the-helmet rule.

Both men, however, were asked about immediate adverse reactions expressed by some players on social media.

"Well, we just finished several days of meetings with those coaches and there was very, very strong support for making these changes," Goodell said. "In fact, I would say unanimous in the fact that we can take the [use of the] head out of the game, we do want to make sure that certain techniques are not used in our game that are not in the best interest of the game at any level. There was very strong support for that.

"You're jumping ahead to the players who haven't had the chance to be able to hear the discussion that we've had, so you're reacting to players who have not yet heard that dialogue and the basis of why we came to where we came," Goodell added. "I understand that, but that's why I mentioned early on, our intent is to make sure we go to each team, we have tape, we have all of the analysis work that was done in great coordination with our various teams to be able to communicate that to them. I'd give them an opportunity to understand what the play is first before we make a lot of judgements about the ramifications. We think this is going to help us take the helmet out of the game and get it back to where it's a protective device as opposed to something that can be used as a weapon."

Riveron said the tenor of the meeting was "as positive as I have" experienced, and he believes the plan will build on a meeting that officials had in Indianapolis with the NFL Players Association.

"I think the coaches unanimously stood up and said, 'We're with it. We understand it's a major change, and we take responsibility,' " Riveron said. "To the Commissioner's point, we've got to get together, we've got to put the materials together, show the tape, we've got to make sure all of you see it, they all see it, and it's taught the same way at all 32 [teams]. If that happens, I think the players — we have the best athletes in the world — will conform. Hopefully, this becomes the springboard to take it all the way down at all levels because the lowering of the head has become all too commonplace, and it needs to get out of the game."

The NFL plans to continue working on specifics of the rule and plans to visit each team before the season starts to explain it.

The other rule changes approved this week were as follows:

  1. Permanently changing the spotting of the ball after kickoffs resulting in touchbacks to the 25-yard line
  1. An attempt to simplify the catch rule (which garnered a thumb's up from Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer)
  1. Making the penalties for illegal batting and kicking the same
  1. Authorizing a member of the officiating department to instruct on-field game officials to disqualify a player for a flagrant non-football act
  1. Eliminating the requirement of an extra point kick or two-point conversion attempt by a team who scores a winning touchdown at the end of regulation (example: the Saints had to return to the field, and the Vikings had to restore order after the Minneapolis Miracle for one final snap, which won't be required anymore)
  1. Allowing a play in overtime to continue if the team that possesses the ball first scores a field goal and the second team to possess the ball suffers an interception or fumble, including the awarding of points score by either team during the down

There were several front-office procedural changes among the 12 bylaws that also were approved, including:

  1. Clubs will be allowed to trade players on the Reserve/Injured list
  1. A player who is designated for return from the Reserve/Injured list will be eligible for activation after eight games instead of eight weeks
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