Particular attention should be given, Goodell said, to the portion of the rule that requires a receiver who goes to the ground while making a catch to maintain possession of the football while on the turf.
That so-called Calvin Johnson rule, named for the former Detroit Lions wide receiver once involved in a controversial no-catch ruling, has been part of a number of highly scrutinized and much-debated plays in recent years, including one that was crucial in determining the outcome of a key victory by the New England Patriots over the Pittsburgh Steelers in December.
“You look at the catch-no catch rule, the officials are officiating it correctly,” Goodell said. “What we have to do is find a rule that we think is going to address what we think should be a catch and no catch.”
To that end, Goodell said, a group of players, coaches and officials met at the NFL’s offices in New York in recent weeks, spending about three hours studying approximately 150 plays to attempt to determine what should and shouldn’t be ruled a legal catch.
“I think we have some very good ideas that we’re going to submit to the competition committee,” Goodell said. “I think there will be a lot of focus on going to the ground, which I think is a big part of the confusion for everyone with respect to that rule. And I think we’ve got a great opportunity here to get this rule right so that everyone understands and appreciates it and that’s not the focus going forward.”
Competition committee members have studied the catch rule annually and have tweaked the wording of it. The problem, they have said, is coming up with a rule that is clear and can be officiated consistently.
The committee also must pay close attention to the relationship between the catch rule and the safety rules protecting receivers from being hit in the head by a defender while in the process of making a catch. The problem, some of those familiar with the committee’s deliberations have said, is that a simple fix to the catch rule — a receiver must have possession of football and two feet on the ground — would make that receiver a runner much sooner under the rules and subject him to being hit legally in the head at that point, which the NFL does not want to happen.
Still, Goodell said Wednesday he thinks that progress is possible.
“I’m not here to tell you there won’t be controversy,” he said. “But I believe we can get to a much better place.”