Next week, the NFL’s owners, coaches, and General Managers will convene in Arizona for the annual league meetings. Those meetings include consideration by the owners of potential rule changes for the next year.
Before those changes can be considered by the owners, proposed changes need to be made by the Competition Committee. On Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. ET, the Competition Committee will conduct its annual media conference call during which the official 2015 proposals are unveiled.
We’ll post the information as it is released, eventually crafting a full list of all rule and bylaw changes proposed by the Competition Committee and by individual teams. Eventually, at least 24 of the 32 owners must vote in favor of the change for the change to be made.
Here’s a list of the subjects that may (or may not) be on the list of proposed changes.
1. Definition of a catch.
The disconnect between the NFL’s definition of a catch and the public’s expectations for what a catch should became more obvious than ever late in a divisional-round game between the Cowboys and Packers, during which Dallas receiver Dez Bryant made what ultimately was the greatest catch in NFL history that didn’t count. It seemed that the stage had been set for a rewriting of the rule to mesh with the know-it-when-you-see-it, but Rams coach Jeff Fisher already has cautioned that a change could be too hard to make.
Which likely means there will be no change proposed by the Competition Committee for 2015. But a change could still be proposed by one or more teams.
2. Pass interference.
The week before the Cowboys seemed to be robbed of a potential win over the Packers in Green Bay, the Lions seemed to be robbed of a potential win over the Cowboys in Dallas due to the failure of the officials to call defensive holding or pass interference in a key moment. One way to address the problem would be to use instant replay for pass interference calls, a rule the CFL adopted in 2014.
NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent has suggested that a compromise could be the adjustment of the defensive pass interference foul to a 15-yard penalty. Which seems like a bad way to rectify the mistakes made by officials when deciding whether interference has happened.
3. Instant replay.
The NFL continuously explores potential improvements to the instant replay process. Last year, the biggest change came from the direct involvement of V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino in the reviews. This year, a push could continue to allow coaches to use their two challenges per game (three if the first two are successful) for any mistake they believe can be shown via indisputable visual evidence.
4. Roster sizes.
PFT has reported that the Competition Committee discussed the possibility of expanding rosters from 53 to 55. That would create 64 more NFL jobs.
The Competition Committee also has discussed potential roster changes for short-week games. PFT reported last month that this could entail allowing all players on the roster to be active for Thursday games.
5. Chop blocks.
Vincent has acknowledged that the chop block, which is still permitted in three specific situations, could be eliminated completely from the NFL, in large part because it has been completely eliminated from the lower levels of the game.
6. London games.
Vincent has said that the Competition Committee has explored improving games played in London. Specific potential changes weren’t identified.
7. Playoff changes.
A year ago, it seemed inevitable that the NFL would expand the postseason from 12 to 14 games. It now seems likely, if not definite, that the change will be postponed one more year, so that the extra postseason games can be tied to the Thursday night package, both of which would be marketed to networks for 2016.
Chatter also has emerged from time to time regarding reseeding of the playoffs to strip the automatic home game from a team that emerged as the best of four bad teams, like the Panthers did in 2014.
8. Extra point.
Last year, the NFL approved a partial preseason experiment premised on moving the one-point try from the two to the 15-yard line. The Pro Bowl included a narrowing of the goal posts. The NFL remains intent on either making the PAT a more relevant and compelling play — or getting rid of it.
9. Technological advances.
The Pro Bowl included other experiments, including the replacement of the clunky replay-review booth with a tablet and headphone combo that both streamlines the process and further justifies the major investments by Microsoft and Bose in the NFL by giving the companies more natural opportunities for their names and products to be displayed during games. Also, coaches and players were able to watch game tape from the sidelines on the tablets at the Pro Bowl; so far, tablets have been used only for the review of still images.
The timing of Chris Borland’s retirement gives the NFL an opportunity to immediately and efficiently explore potential changes to the game aimed at making it safer at the league meetings. The balance continues to be safety on one hand and the fundamental nature of the game on the other. Go too far one way, and more players may choose to walk away. Go too far the other way, and the NFL creates an opening for an old-school, full-contact competitor to emerge.