The NFL has passed a sweeping prohibition on the lowering of the helmet to initiate contact, but it has provided no details whatsoever to the media or fans (and very few to the teams) regarding the application and enforcement of the rule. Many questions will need to be answered over the next few months, and plenty of potentially unintended consequences may arise.
Here’s a possible unintended consequence about which the league should be very concerned: Some coaches may try to get players to, essentially, take a charge.
Consider this example. Two players are moving in opposite directions. As they approach each other, they instinctively dip their heads. Then, one stops and the other keeps going. At contact, one player is moving and the other is stationary. The player who was moving “initiated” the contact, and thus draws the flag.
And so, similar to the manner in which basketball presents the charge-versus-blocking decision for its referees, NFL officials will have to decide whether, when helmets collide, one or both players in a football game will be facing a penalty. If it’s both, the penalties will offset. If it’s one, the other team will gain 15 yards of field position.
Whether it comes to that depends on how the rule is specifically designed and implemented. For now, though, the broad language proposed secretly and adopted quickly by the league sets the stage for this new protection for all players to be used strategically by some coaches who are willing to trade a hit to a player’s head for 15 yards of field position.