When changing its playing rules, the NFL always worries about unintended consequences. The new catch rule has a potential unintended consequence that would run counter to the league’s obsession with player health and safety.
Consider this example: Offensive player catches ball with two feet down. Ball comes out. Official blows the whistle and makes the signal of an incomplete pass. The ball bounces around on the ground. What happens next?
Here’s what happens next: Anyone in the vicinity of the ball dives for it.
If the ruling on the field is overturned, the incomplete pass most likely becomes a completed pass and a fumble. Which most likely means that, if there’s a clear recovery by the defense, the defense will end up with the ball.
The league office did not respond to request for comment made on Friday morning as to whether that scenario would result in a change of possession, but as a source with thorough and extensive knowledge of the rules told PFT, “[They] would have to give it to the defense in that situation.”
While this won’t happen with a high degree of frequency, it definitely will happen. And if indisputable visual evidence of a third step or a reach/extension of the ball before the ball comes out, senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron will have no choice but to overturn the ruling of an incomplete pass to a completed pass and a fumble. Followed by a change of possession, if it’s clear that the defense recovered it.
So, yes, players will be diving for the ball. That’s what they’ll be coached to do, and that’s what they’ll be expected to do. And good luck doing that without lowering the helmet to initiate contact in the process of, you know, diving head first.
While it’s unlikely (hopefully) that diving head first for a loose ball will constitute a violation of the new helmet rule (at this point, who knows?), the sudden, secret passage of such a significant safety rule brings into focus the safety aspects of all rule changes. And the new catch rule definitely has a safety risk that was overlooked, disregarded, or affirmatively assumed by the owners when voting 32-0 to change the catch rule.