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NFL owners mull plethora of instant replay proposals, with long odds of any being approved

First and 10

The Patriots and their coach, Bill Belichick, have proposed making all on-field decisions by the officials, including penalties not called, subject to possible instant replay reviews. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Each week, the Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth Monday morning NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments from a weekend of action.

First and 10: March 23

First: Owners reviewing replay

1.  Veteran combine | 2. Tebow time?
3. Borland’s decision | 4. Hardy’s deal
5. Catch definition | 6. Bonus point
7. New rules for review | 8. L.A. and playoff expansion
9. More flags | 10. Niners reeling


The NFL’s rule-making competition committee has made no proposal to be considered by the owners at the annual league meeting in Phoenix this week regarding possible changes to the instant replay review system.

Sentiment does exist within the league, however, that such changes should be made, especially after the NFC playoff game in which the officials threw a flag for pass interference against the Dallas Cowboys at a key moment in their triumph over the Detroit Lions, only to pick up the flag and not enforce the penalty.

That sentiment is reflected in the fact that there are 13 replay-related proposals made by individual teams that will be presented to the owners this week.

Any of those proposals, as with any other prospective rule change, would have to be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners to be enacted. In general, though, rule-change proposals by teams that are made without the endorsement of the competition committee face long odds of being ratified. The large number of proposals also might lessen the chances that any one of them generates significant support.

So it is unlikely that any of the team-proposed replay changes will be approved this week. But that’s certainly not due to a lack of options.

Here are the 13 replay-related proposals made by teams:

1. By the New England Patriots: A coach, under the existing replay challenge system, can challenge any decision made by the officials on the field not involving scoring plays or turnovers, which are subject to automatic replay reviews. This would enable a coach to challenge any penalty that is called, or even assert that a penalty should have been called when one wasn’t called.

2. By the Lions: A coach could challenge any penalty called by an official. So that’s similar to the Patriots’ proposal but does not enable a coach to use a challenge to contend that a penalty should have been called when one wasn’t called.

3. By the Tennessee Titans: A coach could challenge any personal foul penalty that is called.

4. By the Washington Redskins: Personal fouls would be subject to replay reviews, not necessarily through the coaches’ challenge system.

5. By the Redskins: All penalties that result in an automatic first down would be subject to replay review.

6. By the Titans: A personal foul for an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver could be identified on replay and enforced on a play in which an initial on-field ruling of a catch and fumble is reversed by replay to an incompletion. (Here’s some further explanation since this one is a bit complicated: A receiver makes a catch, is hit in the head by a defensive back and loses the football. The officials rule on the field that the catch had been made and the receiver was running with the football. That makes the hit to the head legal because a ball-carrier is not, by definition, a defenseless player. It’s a catch, a legal hit and a fumble. But then the play is reviewed by replay and called an incompletion rather than a catch and fumble. This proposal says that because there was no legal catch, the receiver was not a ball-carrier but was, under the rules, a receiver in the act of making a catch. That makes him, by definition, a defenseless player, and the hit to the head by the defensive back should be penalized as an illegal hit based on the replay review.)

7. By the Indianapolis Colts: Personal fouls against defenseless players would be subject to replay review, and an unsuccessful challenge on such a play would not cost a team a timeout.

8. By the Redskins: Each team would be given three replay challenges per game, rather than the current two challenges plus a third one only if the first two are successful.

9. By the Kansas City Chiefs: Makes plays that would result in a score or a turnover if the on-field call is reversed subject to automatic replay reviews, in addition to scoring plays and turnovers.

10. By the Titans: The amount of time left on the game clock at the end of a half, game or overtime period would be subject to replay review.

11. By the Chicago Bears: The amount of time left (or not left) on the play clock when the ball was snapped for a play would be subject to replay review.

12. By the Patriots: Cameras would be required to be placed along all sidelines, end lines and goal lines for all games to aid replay reviews.

13. By the Titans: Stadium-generated video feeds could be used in replay reviews, along with television network video.

The competition committee’s decision not to make a replay-related proposal is interesting. The committee’s position is that it does not want officials’ judgment calls to be subjected to possible replay reviews, particularly when it comes to potentially reviewing plays in which one team wanted a penalty called that wasn’t called.

“We discussed this at length,” said St. Louis Rams Coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the committee, during a conference call with reporters last week. “Basically, to simplify things, your head coach is going to become the eighth official on the field [if such changes to replay are made]. It’s going to be our responsibility now to determine whether or not these are fouls or not fouls. And we don’t want to go there.

“This replay system was never designed to involve fouls. We think it’s our responsibility as the committee…. We think we can take care of some of these issues on the field through those means rather than put ourselves in a standard where we’re looking at plays, like I said earlier, where the standard is so different when you’re talking about on-the-field [calls] versus the frame-by-frame [replay] review. Again, we frame-by-framed a lot of things this past spring. And it’s just not something that we support.”


1. Veteran combine

TEMPE, Ariz.—The NFL’s first-ever veteran combine Sunday here at the Arizona Cardinals’ training facility featured more than 100 players trying to impress a scout, general manager or coach and earn one more chance to make a team’s roster.

That came less than a week after San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland made his stunning declaration that he is retiring from the NFL at age 24, one year into his professional career, because of wariness about the long-term health consequences of head injuries.

The contrast was striking.

“I think it completely depends on how you feel physically,” former Rams and Redskins defensive lineman Adam Carriker said Sunday. “If a guy’s walking away like Borland — he said he got a concussion and that kind of made him look at things differently. And it was like his second or third concussion. So me, I mean, I had the knee. But outside of that, I feel really good. If I felt like I was banged up, like I was hurting, I wouldn’t be here. It depends on how I feel. So everyone’s a little bit different.”

Carriker turns 31 in May. He last played an NFL game in the 2012 season for the Redskins. He worked out Sunday among a group of defensive linemen that also included Michael Sam, the league’s first openly gay player who was drafted and released by the Rams last year and then had a stint on the Cowboys’ practice squad, and Jamaal Anderson, a former top-10 draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Carriker said. “It’s a great opportunity for a guy like Jamaal, for a guy like myself, just to come out here and show what we can do and get all 32 teams to look at you at the same time.”

Carriker was so enthused about the chance to showcase himself that he volunteered to do a bench-press strength test even though it was not on the day’s list of workout activities.

“If they want to do the short shuttle, I’ll do it right now,” he said.

He clearly is not ready to walk away from football just yet.

“I feel like other people tell me that, like my close family members,” Carriker said. “But they don’t know. Some of them do. But they don’t know how long I’ve been doing this, how much work has been put into this. This has been my entire life. And one day when I do walk away, I’ve got a family and I’ve got plenty of things to look forward to. One day. That day ain’t here yet.”

Carriker said he has been cleared by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews and is convinced he can make a successful NFL comeback.

“I believe I can still play,” he said. “I have no doubt I can still play, as a matter of fact. I mean, I was at the Andrews Institute for four months last summer. I was doing agility drills and I was beating some [defensive backs]…. That’s pretty good. I go in the weight room and I’m still one of the strongest guys.”

He was asked if his current desire to play in the NFL matches his desire when he came out of college.

“If it’s possible, it’s probably stronger,” Carriker said. “When you have to watch what you love for so long and not be able to do it, it just grows.”

When his agent contacted teams recently, Carriker said, they knew that he had signed up for this first-of-its-kind combine and responded that they’d wait to see him at this event.

“Absolutely [it’s] out of sight, out of mind,” he said. “That’s why this was great for me, just to remind teams, ‘Hey, I’m still alive. Hey, I can still play this game.’ They got a chance to see what I can do and we’ll see what happens from here.”

The passion for football does not dissipate quickly or easily for many players, including Carriker.

“It’s two-fold,” he said. “Number one, I want to. It’s like when I go to bed at night, I think about a few things — my family, the Lord, and I think about football. And I told my wife, I go, ‘I wish I could turn this off, this thing right here. I wish I could shut it off. I wish it would go away,’ because I have no idea if I’ll get an opportunity ever again. And that could drive me nuts for a long time.

“And that’s why I was excited when I heard about the veteran combine. But I can’t shut this off. So I got an opportunity. Now we’ll see what happens. The other part is I know I can still do it. I mean, when you’re beating DBs at the Andrews Institute who are healthy … it makes you feel pretty good.”

And would it drive him slightly less crazy if he doesn’t get another chance now, knowing that he at least had the opportunity to try to impress teams?

“Yes,” he said. “I just wanted an opportunity. If for some reason — and I’d be surprised if nobody calls — but if nobody calls, like I said, I’ve got a family. I’ve got a degree and I can move on. But that day is just not here for me yet. But whenever that day comes, whether it’s a few years from now or whenever it may be, I’ll be all right. There’s life beyond football. But I love this game too much right now.”

2. Tebow time?

Tim Tebow had a workout with an NFL team last week.

And, somehow, the Internet didn’t explode.

Philadelphia Eagles Coach Chip Kelly has spent this offseason ignoring conventional NFL wisdom. He did so again by having Tebow, the quarterback who supposedly can’t throw in a pass-first league, in for a look.

It is easy to take an extreme view, on one side or the other, of Tebow’s play.

He can’t pass.

Or: All he does is win.

There is some truth in each. Tebow is far from a polished NFL passer, with a career passer rating of 75.3. And yet he had a regular season record of 8-6 as a starter for the Denver Broncos in the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He started a playoff victory. There are quarterbacks who have done less and still have managed to continue getting more chances to show improvement.

The issue with Tebow is the attention that he attracts, something that not all teams want from a reserve quarterback. But Kelly has made it clear this offseason that he does not worry about NFL conventions or think how a typical NFL head coach thinks.

He has traded for Sam Bradford, presumably to be his starter. He re-signed Mark Sanchez as a potential backup and he has Matt Barkley on the roster.

But is it unthinkable that Kelly would add Tebow?

Anyone who believes that it’s not possible hasn’t been paying attention very closely to Kelly and the Eagles this offseason.

3. Borland’s decision

Last week’s retirement announcement by Borland prompted a national conversation about the significance of his decision and the future of football.

It is a conversation in which Chris Nowinski would like to see more active NFL players engage.

Nowinski is the co-founder and executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the sports concussion issue. He said the ideal is for players to have enough reliable information in front of them to be able to give their informed consent if they wish to continue playing.

“I remember when we started this move toward awareness and Ted Johnson came out and said what he said in 2007, my goal and his goal was for people to understand the risks involved and make informed decisions,” Nowinski said in a telephone interview last week, referring to the former Patriots linebacker who spoke publicly about his experiences.

“I have been surprised by how few players have sought that information to make sure their decisions are informed. I’m impressed that [Borland] did his homework. We have to have this discussion in a very serious way.”

Nowinski said that active players rarely seek him out for information. He did not speak to Borland, he said.

“I think it averages one or two individuals a year,” he said. “I’m willing to have those discussions with anyone. I’m always surprised at how few players use their platform to discuss these issues. I’m not surprised that when some do go and look at the data first-hand, they chose another path.”

The dynamic will continue to change as more becomes known about concussions and their potential long-term consequences, Nowinski said.

“We’re going to learn more every year,” Nowinski said. “Groups within the football industry try to minimize the risks. … It all comes down to personal choices. In my opinion, you’re allowed to do a dangerous job if you understand the risks and precautions are taken. We don’t tell policemen not to do their jobs. We don’t tell firemen not to do their jobs.”

4. Hardy’s contract

Greg Hardy’s one-year contract with the Cowboys is worth as much as $13.1 million, approximately the same amount he made from Carolina last season while playing only one game.

With Hardy facing a possible suspension by the NFL under the personal conduct policy, his income next season largely is based on his availability. He has a bonus of about $578,125 for each game he’s on the 53-man roster, according to a person familiar with the contract. That’s a total of $9.25 million.

The deal also contains a salary of $750,000, a workout bonus of just more than $1.3 million and incentives of up to approximately $1.8 million.

5. More on catch/no catch

Dez Bryant’s non-catch during last season’s NFC playoffs has taken its place alongside Tom Brady’s non-fumble that helped to give rise to the Patriots’ dynasty.

The Calvin Johnson rule probably will go the way of the tuck rule.


But not yet.

The competition committee declined to propose a new rule to the owners to replace the Calvin Johnson rule, which requires a receiver who goes to the ground while making a catch to maintain control of the football while on the turf to be awarded a legal catch. It’s the standard that was used to overturn Bryant’s apparent fourth-down catch for the Cowboys via replay review, resulting in an incompletion, at a key moment in their playoff defeat at Green Bay. The rule has been informally named for the Lions wideout once involved in a similar play.

Rather than ditching the Calvin Johnson rule, the competition committee plans to tweak it by modifying the language of the rule.

“We looked at a lot of film, a lot of tape,” Falcons President Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee, said during last week’s conference call with reporters. “We looked at it with the coaches’ subcommittee. We have a position for the membership that we will give to them on Monday and look at the language itself.”

McKay declined to specify what changes the competition committee plans to make to the wording of the Calvin Johnson rule, saying he planned to reveal that publicly only after first addressing the issue Monday with the owners, front office executives and coaches. McKay, in explaining why the competition committee declined to propose a new rule to define what is a legal catch and what isn’t, said the sport has a “great history with this rule and we spent a lot of time looking at this, the language itself and then looking at the plays again, and we just made some recognitions in respect to language.”

McKay also said: “My perspective is that, I know no club submitted a rules proposal on that, nor was it a big topic in the surveys that were returned from the clubs. But I will say we as the committee spent an awful lot of time on it. And I think in the language, we feel like we can help bring more clarity to the rule, which was a difficult rule because of the fact you’re dealing with boundaries. You’re dealing with plays in the end zone, plays on the sideline. You’re dealing with plays in the field of play. You’re dealing with instances when a receiver goes to the ground. So we’re just trying to bring clarity to the language.”

Some of the sport’s leaders have spoken previously about the bright line that the Calvin Johnson rule provides, in their view, when officials must make a judgment about what is a catch and what isn’t. With this rule, the reasoning goes, there is less to judge.

The problem is, the Calvin Johnson rule produces counter-intuitive calls. Just about anyone who watched the Bryant play during the playoffs believed at first glance that Bryant made the catch. The rule said he didn’t. (Some have argued that Bryant made the catch even under the existing rule, maintaining possession long enough to make the necessary football act of reaching the football toward the goal line. But that’s a separate argument.)

In the same way, the tuck rule was counter-intuitive. When Brady lost the football late in an AFC playoff game against the Oakland Raiders in January 2002, just about anyone who was watching thought he’d lost a fumble. The rule said he didn’t. The play was ruled an incomplete pass rather than a fumble. The Patriots maintained possession, went on to beat the Raiders and then later that postseason secured the first of their four Super Bowl titles under Belichick and Brady.

For years, the competition committee and the league kept the tuck rule in place because, they said, they couldn’t come up with a better alternative, a way to give the officials a guideline to judge consistently whether the quarterback had lost a fumble or thrown an incompletion on such a play.

Then, suddenly, in March 2013, the committee recommended getting rid of the tuck rule and taking a more common-sense approach, leaving more to the judgment of the game officials as to whether a quarterback was or was not in the process of throwing a pass when he lost the football while being hit by a defender. The owners ratified the change soon thereafter. And, that quickly, the tuck rule was gone and everyone wondered what had taken so long.

So it will be someday for the Calvin Johnson rule, in all likelihood.

But not yet.

Not now.

6. Bonus point

One proposal that has seemed to generate considerable curiosity among fans is the Colts’ idea of giving a team a chance to add a “bonus” ninth point after a touchdown and a successful two-point conversion.

It would come via a 50-yard “bonus field goal” that could be attempted only after a successful two-point conversion. The ball would be snapped at the 32-yard line.

The intent of the proposal, it says, is to encourage teams to attempt more two-point conversions.

That is a unique way to try to achieve the NFL’s goal of adding some drama to the extra point. But it has the feel of being too much of a gimmick, too radical of a change to the sport’s fundamental scoring system, and it seems highly unlikely that it will generate much support.

Competition committee members said they could not recall a similar proposal having been made in the past.

But Panthers kicker Graham Gano had an idea along the same lines.

“I brought this up last year,” Gano wrote on Twitter. “How about a point for every kickoff that goes through the uprights?”

7. Other proposals

There are 23 rule-change proposals in all, 18 of them submitted by teams. In addition to the 13 replay-related proposals made by teams and the Colts’ bonus-point proposal, the others submitted by individual teams are:

Longer extra point (by the Patriots): The ball would be snapped from the 15-yard line for an extra point, making it the equivalent of a 33-yard field goal. A two-point conversion attempt still would come from the 2-yard line. The league experimented with a longer extra point during the preseason last year. It will be interesting to see if this gains support.

Safety on punts (by the Baltimore Ravens): The team rushing on a punt cannot have players push teammates into the offensive formation, which is already prohibited on field goals and extra points.

Overtime possessions (by the Bears): Each team would have possession of the ball at least once in overtime. Currently, the team that gets the ball first in overtime can end the game and win with a touchdown.

Peel-back blocks (by the Miami Dolphins): The prohibition against illegal peel-back blocks would be extended to all offensive players, not only those who line up inside the tackle box.

There are five rule-change proposals by the competition committee.

They are:

Defenseless receiver: The intended receiver on a pass that is intercepted before the ball gets to him would be protected as a defenseless player, resulting in a penalty if he is hit illegally. The penalty would not negate the turnover.

Carry-over penalties: An unsportsmanlike conduct or taunting penalty at the end of the first half would be carried over and assessed at the outset of the second half. Currently that provision covers only dead-ball personal fouls. The same would apply to such penalties at the end of regulation if the game goes into overtime.

Chop blocks: A running back cannot participate with a teammate on a high-and-low chop block on a defensive player. The rule currently allows a running back to participate in such a block if it occurs outside the area occupied by the tight end in the offensive formation.

Jersey numbers: Linebackers would be permitted to wear jersey numbers in the 40s, in addition to numbers in the 50s and 90s.

Eligible receivers reporting as ineligible: If an offensive player with a number that normally makes him an eligible receiver reports as ineligible (a tactic used by the Patriots during the postseason), that player would be required to line up on the offensive line, within the tackle box.

Got all of that?

There will be a quiz on Tuesday.

There also are four bylaw proposals, including one by the Redskins to eliminate the current roster cut to 75 players following the third of four preseason games. Teams would face only one mandatory roster cut-down before the season to 53 players.

Also, the competition committee has not acted yet on the chain-of-custody issue that arose from the DeflateGate scandal.

Currently, the footballs are given back to team-appointed attendants after being inspected by the game officials prior to a game. That procedure potentially could be changed in the future to put the footballs in the possession of a league-appointed attendant following that inspection, as is done for the Super Bowl.

There are to be further discussions on that topic this week. It’s possible that no action will be taken until after attorney Ted Wells’s investigation of the episode is completed.

8. Expanded playoffs, and L.A. possibilities

Momentum seems to remain stalled for expanding the NFL playoff field from 12 to 14 teams beginning next season. It appears unlikely that the owners will vote on the measure this week. They perhaps will not even spend much time on the topic, given that the realistic target date for implementation of the expanded playoffs seems to have shifted to the 2016 season at the soonest.

McKay said that the competition committee has updated its position on the measure from last year but will deliver essentially the same message to the owners: It sees no problem with expanding the playoff field from a competitive standpoint.

“Last year we showed the advantages [and] we showed the disadvantages,” McKay said last week. “And I think we took a position that said, from a competitive standpoint, we don’t think there’s any negative to the expansion of the playoffs. Obviously the challenge that remained was the fact that you’d go from two byes to one [in each conference in the first round of the playoffs]. Even then, we gave our reasons why we didn’t feel like it was a competitive negative, if you will, to the playoffs.”

There are, of course, larger financial implications for the owners to consider, and the current plan appears to be for the league to sell the additional first-round playoff games to the TV networks at the same time it next shops the package of Thursday night games now carried by CBS and the league-owned NFL Network.

There is also certain to be much talk among the owners this week about Los Angeles with the Rams, Raiders and San Diego Chargers jockeying to be among the one to two franchises that could move and potentially begin playing there as soon as the 2016 season. It is unclear if any significant actions will be taken this week, however.

9. Penalties up

Penalties were up last season and yet games were shorter, according to the figures provided by the competition committee.

There were 13.2 accepted penalties per game last season, up from 12.3 accepted penalties per game in the 2013 season.

Yet the average time of game actually decreased a bit. The average game lasted 3 hours 5 minutes 53 seconds last season, down from 3:07:37 in the ’13 season.

10. Niners’ plan?

Before going 8-8 in a turbulent 2014 season that ended with Jim Harbaugh returning to the college coaching ranks at Michigan, the 49ers had reached three NFC title games and had made one Super Bowl appearance in Harbaugh’s first three seasons as their coach.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the team’s chief executive officer, Jed York, told Bloomberg Television last week: “We’re trying to win a Super Bowl. We haven’t been able to do that. And I think what we’re trying to do is build a team that focuses on our core strengths. I think we got away from that a little bit. I think we tried to do too much and be something that we weren’t. I think you’re gonna see us get back to the basics, get back to letting our players go out and make plays…. You look at our offense last year. It wasn’t, I think, where it should have been. I think we have better talent than what our results showed.”

It is difficult to say, however, what exactly the “core strengths” of the 49ers were prior to Harbaugh’s arrival.

In the eight seasons before Harbaugh took over, the 49ers had exactly zero winning seasons and made exactly zero playoff appearances.

This offseason has included not only Harbaugh’s exit but also the retirements of linebacker Patrick Willis and Borland. Tailback Frank Gore and guard Mike Iupati left as free agents. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree remains unsigned in free agency.

York and General Manager Trent Baalke elevated defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to replace Harbaugh and have overseen the roster turnover. Their plan had better work out. Perhaps only Kelly will face more intense scrutiny next season.