Earlier this year, the Panthers proposed a change to the intentional grounding rule that would, as a practical matter, prevent quarterbacks from avoiding both a sack and a penalty by firing the ball at the feet of an eligible receiver. The proposal didn’t pass, but the new rule book nevertheless shows two changes to the intentional grounding rule.
Rule 3, Section 22, Article 4, Item 1 (I already need a nap) has been clarified to explain that the intentional grounding rules do not apply if the defender “contacts the passer or the ball after forward movement begins,” but that grounding rules apply if the defender contacts the passer or the ball before forward movement of the ball begins.
In other words, if a defender hits the quarterback or the ball once the quarterback’s arm is moving forward, grounding rules don’t apply if, for example, the ball doesn’t land in the vicinity of an eligible receiver. (Obviously, intentional grounding never applies if the passer is out of the pocket and throws the ball beyond the line of scrimmage.) If the defender hits the quarterback or the ball before the forward movement begins, the grounding rules apply; thus, if the quarterback tries to throw it after being hit, the ball has to land in the vicinity of a receiver.
As to the intentional grounding rule itself, a minor tweak has been made. The Panthers had proposed that the following sentence be deleted from the rule: “A realistic chance of completion is defined as a pass that lands in the direction and the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver.”
It wasn’t. Instead, the sentence now says this: “A realistic chance of completion is defined as a pass that is thrown in the direction of and lands in the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver.”
The only difference is that the rule now says the ball must both be thrown in the direction of and land in the vicinity of an eligible receiver. This means, in theory, that the quarterback can’t just blindly throw the ball up and hope it lands close to a receiver.
In practice, it may not be easy to tell the difference between situations where a quarterback throws the ball in the direction of the receiver and where the quarterback just gets ride of it and gets lucky. It’ll be a judgment call made in real time by a referee who is stationed behind the quarterback and unable to see in many cases whether the quarterback is trying to throw the ball in the vicinity of an eligible receiver or is simply closing his eyes and hoping for the best.