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Touchback Placement Part of 9 NFL Rule Changes

With seven proposed rule changes passed on Tuesday and another two added Wednesday at the Annual League Meeting, the NFL will have nine new rules heading into the 2016 season.

NFL Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay said 19 changes were proposed in all. Six were voted down, three were withdrawn and one was tabled until May.

There also were three bylaws that were passed Wednesday. Rules and bylaws are voted on by representatives from each NFL team.

The pair of rules passed on Wednesday were: 1) to eject a player who is penalized for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls twice in one game; and 2) to change the spot from the 20-yard line to the 25 after a kick that results in a touchback. Both rules are effective for one year only, a trial run of sorts.

"We want to see how it changes the numbers at how it impacts the game," said McKay, who also cited a safety element. "There is that thought that there will be some more short kicks. We'll see."

The following infractions are included as unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that would result in disqualification of a player:

a)    "Throwing a punch, or a forearm or kicking at an opponent, even though no contact is made.

b)   Using abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials or representatives of the league.

c)    Using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams."

McKay, the President and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons, said there was a spirited discussion among coaches about the proposed rule.

"We heard some of the coaches and their concerns yesterday about the rule and how the rule would be used," McKay said. "We wanted to amend it and make it for one year.

"We felt like we needed a rule to make sure the players are held accountable to what we expect them to do and how we expect them to conduct themselves," McKay added.

The NFL announced seven rule changes on Tuesday, including the elimination of chop blocks, which McKay said was significant from a safety perspective.

"[The chop block] has been a part of our game for a long time and there have been plenty of teams and schemes that have relied upon that technique," McKay said. "It is not one that is overwhelmed with injury data but it's not one that we have felt good about over the years as we've continued to limit that play.

"This year we were able to eliminate it totally," he added. "I think it's a good thing from a defensive player's perspective. Oftentimes, many of our safety rules are directed toward offensive players … but this one is a pure defensive player safety rule that we (thought) was time to pass, and we're happy it did."

McKay said the rule change that allows offensive and defensive play callers to use the coach-to-player communication system will allow "more flexibility, if you will, for the coaches to where they call their plays from."

Extra points also will be permanently placed at the 15-yard line, a change that was implemented last season.

"It's an example of a proposal that took a long, long time to get passed," McKay said. "Last year it was passed for one year and it was passed this year without a vote against."

Other proposed rule changes that passed include:

— Expanding the horse collar tackle rule to include when a defender grabs the jersey at the name plate or above and pulls a runner toward the ground.

— Making it a foul for delay of game when a team attempts to call a timeout when it is not permitted to do so.

— Eliminating the 5-yard penalty for an eligible receiver illegally touching a forward pass after being out of bounds and re-establishing himself inbounds and making it a loss of down.

— Eliminating multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession.

The proposed rule change that was tabled had to do with expanding the list of reviewable plays.

Of the three bylaws that passed, one was submitted by the Vikings.

Voters agreed with Minnesota that the league should shorten the period of time in which clubs are prohibited from re-signing players with whom it has executed injury settlements.

In addition, Buffalo's bylaw proposal to expand the time period for a club to designate a player from the Reserve/Injured — Designated to Return list.

In 2015, the Vikings designated center John Sullivan to return after he suffered a back injury in the preseason. But Sullivan was never healthy enough to play after suffering a second setback during his recovery.

The new bylaw means the Vikings wouldn't have had to immediately designate Sullivan to return. Teams will be able to wait until one player on the list is cleared before using the designation. There still will be a limitation of one player that teams can designate for return each season.

Lastly, a bylaw that requires clubs to terminate or request waivers for players who are placed on Reserve with minor injuries was approved.

The only proposed bylaw that was tabled until May was whether or not players and coaches can review video on club-issued Surface tablets on the sidelines. Current policy allows review of still photos.

"We heard really good discussions this morning from coaches," McKay said. "And some concerns, both on the technical side, on the actual application of it and on the competitive ramifications."

After a busy few days of meetings and the voting process, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he felt the league continued to find ways to improve the sport.

"Our entire emphasis this week was on what we can do to continue to make our game great," Goodell said. "What can we continue to do to make it safer for our players? How do we continue to use innovation?

"I would say that the game got better this week," he added.

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