Last week, the NFL unanimously passed a dramatic rule change, broadly banning the lowering of the helmet to initiate contact with an opponent. No one knows what this really means, and no one will know until the league office shares with owners more details about the new rule in the coming weeks and months.
As a result, everyone is currently in the dark — including the players who will be expected to comply with the new rule.
“I don’t know how it’s going to go down,” Dolphins guard Josh Sitton said in an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “It’s going to be one of those things, it’ll be a hot topic for a little while and then it’ll kind of die down after the preseason and the first few weeks. But, you know, it pretty much happens on every play so I don’t know how they’re going to really officiate it. I feel like people are going to be getting kicked out of the game left and right. I’ve been a guy that typically tries to lead with my head back and kind of come in with my chest and hands but, you know, it happens quite often. So it’ll be interesting. You know, I think the league has gotten to a place where it’s probably not going to be around in 20 years so, and this is kind of one of those rules that’s making it head that way.”
Sitton said a lot in that answer, much of which isn’t entirely consistent. It won’t be a big deal, it will be a big deal. It will die down, it won’t die down. It won’t dramatically change the game, it will dramatically change the game.
For now, Sitton and the rest of us just don’t know what will happen. But what we do know is that the NFL’s owners heard something last week that sufficiently motivated them to give the league office one of the biggest blank checks the league office ever has had — the ability to craft a rule that could end up being a hiccup or a revolutionary change in how the game is played or anything in between.
However it plays out, bet the over. The league wouldn’t have secretly crafted a broad rule and pushed it quickly through the process without any meaningful external analysis or scrutiny if the league didn’t plan to make this a major change to the game. And it could dramatically change the run game as we know it, since plenty of players in the tackle box lower their helmets to initiate contact.
Think of how different the game will be if the running back can’t dip his helmet to blast through the first or second level. Think of how different it will be if linebackers and defensive backs can’t meet the running back in the hole with their helmets dipped. Indeed, the 2013 rule that prohibited dropping the helmet and ramming the top of it into an opponent specifically didn’t apply in the tackle box, because that’s the kind of stuff that happens all the time in the tackle box.
It happens especially between linemen. Maybe they’ll be exempt from the new rule because their helmets are pre-dipped at the snap. Or maybe the effort to sort out how the new helmet rule applies will result in the NFL secretly presenting to owners in May the seemingly (after last week) inevitable abolition of the three-point stance.
Yes, football is in the process of changing in a very major way. We just don’t know the specifics yet, but we know enough to have a strong sense that they will be significant.