Two of the most notorious and controversial blocks to occur during NFL games in recent seasons were thrown by defensive tackle Warren Sapp, then with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Chad Clifton on an interception return in 2002, and by Denver Broncos offensive tackle George Foster on Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Tony Williams during a Monday night game last season.
Both were legal at the time. But the tactics that they used might not be legal by next season.
Atlanta Falcons General Manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee, said Tuesday that the committee is closely studying the possibility of rewording the language concerning unnecessary-roughness personal fouls in the rule book to include blocks like those, which occur far from the ballcarrier and have no effect on the outcome of the play.
"Hopefully we'll get some hits out of the game," McKay said during a conference call with reporters.
The change could come next week in Maui during the annual league meetings. Any rules change would have to be ratified by three-quarters of the teams, but they generally follow the recommendation of the competition committee on such matters.
NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw has said that he supports banning certain blocking techniques to make the game safer. Union officials have discussed the issue with members of the competition committee, and a group of players -- including Broncos safety John Lynch, New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper -- also participated in the conversations.
There have been calls by players and coaches for a tightening of the rules on the "cut" block, on which an offensive player hits a defender below the waist. But such blocks appear likely to remain legal, as long as the offensive player doesn't hit the defender from behind and as long as the defender isn't being blocked high at the same time by another offensive player (an illegal "chop" block).
McKay said the problem isn't necessarily with the blocking techniques that occur at the line of scrimmage between the offensive tackles. "With low blocking inside the tackle box, we're not having a lot of problems," McKay said.
The blocks that the competition committee want to eliminate are the unnecessary ones on unsuspecting, defenseless players far from the ballcarrier. Under the rule change that is likely to occur, hits like those by Sapp and Foster would be deemed 15-yard unnecessary-roughness penalties.
McKay stressed Tuesday that neither block was illegal when it occurred. Committee members repeatedly watched Foster's hit on Williams -- which resulted in a broken ankle for Williams -- and reaffirmed that it was legal under the current rules, McKay said. Sapp's hit on Clifton in 2002 led to a postgame confrontation between Sapp and Packers Coach Mike Sherman and left Clifton hospitalized for nearly a week because of a pelvic injury. But it, too, was legal.
Not for much longer, however. McKay said the committee plans to "broaden the language" on unnecessary roughness to cover such hits, although the exact wording has not been determined yet. According to McKay, the committee also might look for ways to protect defenders who get wiped out on blocks that they don't see coming on certain types of plays, like screen passes, and for ways to protect kickers and punters from being hit unnecessarily on returns.
There has been some talk that the committee might move the eliminate the "horse-collaring" tackling technique in which a defender grabs an offensive player from behind around the neck or shoulders and drags him down. It was the tackling method used by Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams on the play last season on which Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens suffered the severe ankle sprain that required surgery and cut short his season. But a change in that area is far from certain because the NFL's rule-makers already have made playing defense so difficult.
"We've been very hesitant as a league to take away a means of tackling," McKay said.
Labor Deal Not Imminent
There had been some hope as recently as a few weeks ago that the league and the union might be close to an agreement for an extension of their labor deal by this owners' meeting. But that isn't the case as the owners prepare to gather in Hawaii.
There has been some progress, even with the union seeking significant changes to the financial model that has made the NFL so successful. The league has agreed to discuss giving the players a share of total football revenues, instead of the designated gross revenues on which the salary cap is based under the current terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
But while the league has been willing to discuss such a widening of the scope of revenues shared with the players, the parties remain far apart in their views on the percentage of those revenues that the players should receive. League spokesman Greg Aiello said during Tuesday's conference call: "There's a long way to go. . . . This is not business as usual. This is a tougher negotiation." . . .
The possibility that the owners could award the 2010 Super Bowl to New York during this league meeting, contingent upon the construction of a new stadium in Manhattan for the Jets, is odd because a host city for the 2009 Super Bowl has not been designated yet. That decision is to be made during the May owners' meeting in Washington. The finalists are Houston, Atlanta, Miami and Tampa.
The Chiefs also have asked to be awarded a Super Bowl sometime between 2012 and 2022, contingent upon the construction of a new stadium with a roof in Kansas City (or the addition of a roof to Arrowhead Stadium). . . .
The May owners' meeting in D.C. could bring some far more significant developments than this one will. The owners might pick a site for a future Los Angeles franchise and probably will vote on the proposed $625 million sale of the Vikings from Red McCombs to Reggie Fowler during the May meeting. Both matters are to be discussed next week, but not resolved.
Bears Still Looking For A QB
The Chicago Bears tried to sign Kurt Warner to be their backup quarterback, behind Rex Grossman, entering next season. He signed with Arizona.
The Bears tried to sign Jay Fiedler. He signed with the Jets.
They tried to sign Brad Johnson. He agreed Tuesday to a four-year, $6 million contract with the Vikings to back up Culpepper, and the Bears were left regrouping yet again. Their options at this point are less than attractive, with the list of quarterbacks still available on the free-agent market topped by Vinny Testaverde, Quincy Carter and Shaun King. . . .
Detroit signed guard Rick DeMulling, an unrestricted free agent from Indianapolis, to a two-year contract worth about $4.5 million. . . . Green Bay re-signed free-agent tight end David Martin. . . . Tampa Bay re-signed fullback Jameel Cook. . . .
Seattle signed cornerback Kelly Herndon, a restricted free agent from the Broncos, to a five-year, $15 million contract offer sheet. The deal includes a $4.5 million signing bonus. Denver has a week to decide whether to retain Herndon by matching Seattle's offer. The Broncos would not receive any draft pick from Seattle as compensation if they allow Herndon to depart.
Denver already has matched an offer sheet to one of its restricted free agents -- a five-year, $12.5 million deal, including a $2.5 million signing bonus, offered to tight end Jeb Putzier by the Jets. . . .
Cleveland signed tailback Chester Taylor, a restricted free agent from Baltimore, to a one-year, $3 million offer sheet. The deal includes a $1 million signing bonus and would be a bit cumbersome on the Ravens' salary cap for a backup running back, increasing the chances that the team will decline to match the offer sheet and allow Taylor to go to Cleveland. The Browns would owe Baltimore a sixth-round draft choice as compensation. . . .
Guard Cooper Carlisle agreed this week to a two-year, $2 million deal with the Ravens that included a $500,000 signing bonus. But Carlisle's former team, the Broncos, did not give up so easily on re-signing the unrestricted free agent. The Broncos convinced Carlisle, before the deal was signed, to back out of his agreement with Baltimore and return to the Broncos for a matching contract offer.
It was the second time this offseason that a tentative contract agreement between the Ravens and a free agent unraveled. A deal between the club and cornerback Gary Baxter fell apart when Baxter learned that the contract he was about to sign included a $7 million signing bonus, $4 million less than he thought it was to contain. Baxter signed with Cleveland instead, and the Ravens signed free agent Samari Rolle to replace him. . . .
San Diego signed linebacker Steve Foley to a three-year, $10 million contract extension through the 2009 season. . . . The Packers began rebuilding their interior of their offensive line by agreeing to a two-year contract with free-agent guard Adrian Klemm of New England. The deal is worth about $2.5 million and includes an $800,000 signing bonus. Green Bay has lost both of its starting guards from last season, releasing Mike Wahle in a salary-cap move and watching Marco Rivera sign with Dallas as an unrestricted free agent. The Packers could sign another free-agent guard, Matt O'Dwyer of Tampa Bay. . . . The Vikings re-signed free-agent center Cory Withrow, whom they had released last month. . . .
The Chiefs announced today that they'd signed team president Carl Peterson to a four-year contract extension through the 2009 season. . . .
Miami signed free-agent fullback Heath Evans, formerly of Seattle. . . . Chicago re-signed free-agent cornerback Todd McMillon. . . . Houston signed linebacker Franklin Chamberlin, a free agent from Cincinnati.