NFL owners meetings: ‘Tuck rule,’ safety measure involving running backs are top potential rule changes


Eleven years since the infamous ‘Tuck Rule Game’ between the Patriots and Raiders, the NFL is considering a measure to rescind the rule at an annual league meeting that begins Monday. (MATT CAMPBELL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
March 17, 2013

NFL owners, general managers and coaches were gathering at a resort here Sunday for an annual league meeting at which the fate of the “tuck rule” is to be decided and an already controversial new safety measure could be enacted.

The meeting is scheduled to officially begin Monday morning when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addresses the representatives of the teams. Votes on the competition committee’s proposal to rescind the tuck rule and other potential rule changes are likely to come Tuesday and Wednesday.

The tuck rule has been in the NFL rule book since 1999 and came to prominence when it played a key role in helping the New England Patriots beat the Oakland Raiders in an AFC playoff game in 2002 on their way to their first Super Bowl triumph. An apparent fumble by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady that seemed to seal a Raiders victory instead was overturned and ruled an incomplete pass. The Patriots rallied to win, putting them on their way to a dynasty that included three Super Bowl titles.

The Raiders expressed their approval, via the team’s official Twitter account, in an it’s-about-time kind of way when the competition committee announced last Thursday that it would recommend getting rid of the tuck rule. A rule change must be ratified by at least 24 of the 32 teams to go into effect.

“We have talked about this for too many years and we’ve always struggled with the answer,” Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee, said in a conference call with reporters last week. “I think this year we were swayed by the officials themselves when they met with us [at the NFL scouting combine] in Indianapolis. They said they’re very comfortable with this change.”

Under the proposed change, a quarterback would be ruled to have fumbled the ball if it is knocked from his hand after he pulls the ball down from his throwing motion; it still would be called an incomplete pass if he loses the ball with his arm moving forward in the throwing motion. Under the tuck rule, an incomplete pass is to be called even if the quarterback has pulled the ball down from his throwing motion, unless he has tucked the ball back into his body to become a runner.

Another potential rule change proposed by the competition committee would make it illegal for a runner to lower his head and initiate contact with a tackler in certain instances. It would be a 15-yard penalty.

The proposal would make it a penalty for either the ballcarrier or tackler to initiate contact with the crown of the helmet while outside the tackle box. Competition committee members last week called it a necessary safety measure and an obvious next step in the efforts to protect players from injuries. Not all players agree.

“The proposed rule change for running backs might be the most absurd suggestion of a rule change I’ve ever heard of,” Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte wrote Sunday on Twitter.

Forte wrote that a runner must lower his head in order to lower his shoulder, calling it “a way of protecting [your]self from a tackler and a way to break tackles.” He also wrote that “[you] can’t change the instinctive nature of running the football.”

The competition committee did not recommend expanding the playoff field for the 2013 season. Committee members had been discussing the possibility of adding a playoff team or two in each conference. But rather than recommend such a change to the owners at this league meeting, the committee is to make a report this week and the issue is to be studied further for the future.

No vote is scheduled this week on the proposal to change the NFL’s offseason calendar by pushing back the scouting combine, free agency and the draft. That would have to be approved by both the owners and the players’ union, and the union does not appear receptive to later free agency.

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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