Earlier this week, the NFL gave the ATC spotter the power to stop the game action and insist on the removal of a player in distress. It gives the spotter unprecedented authority, but it definitely was needed.
According to the league office, film study revealed 25 occasions in the last three seasons during which players in distress were not immediately removed from play. (In a recent appearance on PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent inadvertently said that the 25 plays came entirely from 2014.)
Vincent specifically confirmed that Patriots receiver Julian Edelman should have been removed from play for further evaluation after taking a blow to the head in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX. It nevertheless remains to be seen whether the ATC spotter will stop the action and remove a key player during crunch time of a postseason game.
NBC Sports Medicine Analyst Mike Ryan, a long-time NFL athletic trainer, explained during Friday’s PFT Live that it shouldn’t be an issue, because the spotter should at all times have player health and safety as the paramount concern. Still, if the spotter removes, for example, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at a critical moment of the Super Bowl and Brady ends up being fine, the spotter will need to be ready to withstand the criticism that necessarily will come from the decision to send Brady to the sideline for at least one snap.