Amid the uproar among some players and fans over the NFL’s new helmet rule, league officials plan to discuss the rule in the coming days but are unlikely to make major changes to it before the regular season.
According to one person familiar with the league’s inner workings, rulemakers do not expect to significantly change the language of the rule, nor do they plan to expand the use of instant replay to include all penalties assessed under the rule — and not merely those resulting in ejections.
If any changes are made, they apparently would be minor modifications meant to clarify the existing rule.
The rule, ratified by NFL owners in May and enacted for this season, makes it a 15-yard penalty for a player to lower his head and use his helmet to hit an opponent. A player is subject to a possible ejection, reviewable by replay, and could draw a fine or suspension for an egregious violation.
Some players have complained about the application of the rule by officials in the early weeks of the preseason. The NFL has acknowledged there will be an adjustment period for players, coaches, officials and fans, comparing it to the adjustment that accompanied the league’s rules addressing hits to the head of defenseless players being put into place in the 1990s.
There has been speculation in recent days that the league might make significant adjustments to the rule before the regular season. But while discussions are expected to take place this week, the person familiar with the thinking of league leaders said: “No language will be changed.”
That person also said the use of replay in conjunction with the rule will not be expanded in a meaningful way.
Pro Football Talk reported Monday that the rule is to be discussed in a conference call Wednesday. ESPN reported that the league will issue a new teaching tape to update teams on the application of the rule in an attempt to clarify it.
A second person close to the situation also said that “no major changes” to the rule are expected. According to that person, Wednesday’s conference call of competition committee members will include an update of what has been learned through the first two weeks of preseason play and efforts will be made to achieve clarity and consistency in the application of the rule. But league leaders remain committed to eliminating that hitting technique from the game.
NFL leaders have said the new rule is a significant player-safety development and is designed to eliminate a technique that is dangerous to both the player receiving the hit and the player delivering hit. They have said the rule is designed to keep players from using the helmet as a weapon rather than as a protective device.
The rule was enacted after a 2017 season in which the number of concussions suffered by players increased and in which Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal injury on a hit in a December game.
Read more on the NFL: