New helmet rule continues to loom over 2018 season

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Like Train in Vain as the hidden caboose on London Calling, the NFL deftly slipped the new helmet rule into the list of proposed 2018 rule changes, item No. 11 on a 10-proposal list. And that initial cloak of secrecy has followed the new helmet rule for nearly three months since it made a sudden debut.

As explained by Dom Cosentino of, the new helmet rule could dramatically change football as we know it. He’s one of the few (only) to see it that way. And, of course, I’m sharing his take in this space because I’m one of the few (only) to see it that way, too.

Consentino has learned from the league that the rule itself won’t appear as a new provision in the rulebook. Instead, the new helmet rule results from the removal of only three words from one of the many ways that a player can be penalized for unnecessary roughness. Of the 10 different types of unnecessary roughness, item (i) has been changed from “using any part of a player’s helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily” to “using any part of a player’s helmet to butt, spear, or ram an opponent.”

In other words, the NFL has removed the key words “violently or unnecessarily.”

Which, of course, doesn’t make sense. If the butting, spearing, or ramming isn’t violent or unnecessary, how can it be unnecessary roughness? And why bury this potentially dramatic change in a portion of the rule book that articulates instances of unnecessary roughness by expressly removing the words “unnecessary” and “violent” (i.e., roughness) from the definition of the prohibited act?

It’s just another example of the scavenger hunt that the new helmet rule has become, a quest complicated by plenty of influential people claiming that there’s no cause for concern while the reasons to be concerned continue to pile up.

If the rule is consistently enforced as written, with all non-violent and necessary instances of butting, ramming, or spearing drawing a flag, the game definitely will change, especially in the trenches. If the rule isn’t consistently enforced as written, yet another arbitrary rule potentially will potentially mar the outcome of games when the foul isn’t called on one key play but is called during another.

Just in time for the proliferation of legalized gambling.

The new helmet rule has the potential to be a mess, because it already is a mess. At very best for the NFL, another significant disconnect will exist between the language of a rule and its application, creating way too much discretion and, in turn, an opportunity for officiating shenanigans. At worst, the helmet will be taken out of the game to the point where it will become glorified two-hand touch with linemen in two-point stances and the table set for a second fall football league to embrace the game the way it used to be played — and to siphon off NFL fans who will potentially reach their personal breaking points regarding an evolution of safety rules that may soon become a revolution.

27 responses to “New helmet rule continues to loom over 2018 season

  1. Why do you suppose a few more refs recently retired? Too many subjective rules in play. The NFL didn’t need to make this change, just impose stricter penalties or fines if they felt it was out of hand. Which it wasn’t!
    They will walk this back, much like the catch rule that they did at the end of last season.

  2. Want to stop guys from leading with their helmets? What about redesigning the helmets so they can’t be used as weapons? Ever notice how your modern automobile that does a fantastic job of keeping you alive in a crash isn’t built like a tank like cars were in the 1950s but instead crumples up to absorb energy? Sort of like how a bicycle helmet functions. Guys wouldn’t lead with their heads if they were in helmets like that and they could just swap them out on the sidelines for a new one when they did break one from taking a hit to the head. But instead the newest helmets are still hard as a rock, still make guys feel invincible, and are only moderately better than older helmets since their design has hardly changed at all since hard helmets were first introduced.

  3. Spoken like a true lawyer. Ugh.
    There’s no confusion for anybody except you, nobody has said it will be any kind of a problem for linemen to keep playing as they always have in the trenches

  4. It’s no surprise this virtually unenforceable rule got implemented the same year sports gambling became legal for all states…

    The more subjective the rule, the more bookies and Vegas can influence point spreads through penalties…

    Think back to the Pats vs Titans playoff game…Titans get big first down and have momentum…Decker catches a short pass and runs an additional 15 yards giving Tennessee a first down…but a referee who’s not even visible on the screen and must’ve been at least 25 yards away from the infraction called offensive pass interference. Heck the flag he threw wasn’t even near the spot of the “foul” and wasn’t even thrown until Decker had long gotten the first down…

    Now that penalty didn’t determine the outcome of the game…but it sure as heck helped the Pats cover the 14.5 point spread…which didn’t look likely after Tennessee marched down and score the previous drive…

  5. All I see in the upcoming 2018 season is drama and controversy.

    This season will be foreshadowed by “unfair” calls and more angst over all the changes in the NFL.

    The game’s future is reaching “critical mass” and I wonder if the NFL will survive.

    We can never go back to what it once was. The past is over. The glory days are gone.

  6. So now the NFL has at least three “rules” which are unexplainable by football experts and the enforcement of which depends strictly on the whim of some official:
    1. The catch
    2. Pass interference
    3. Misuse of helmet

    And big money is being wagered on every play. What could possibly go wrong? And I’m just cynical enough about the NFL to think that these rules, especially the helmet rule, will be used at certain times in certain games involving certain teams to influence either the outcome or the point spread, or both. Just wait until the playoffs and a potential game winning touchdown is called back because some right tackle’s helmet tapped some pass rusher’s helmet.

  7. Like Ike and Tina Turner I start out nice and easy but I do the finish rough

    Never saw the attraction. I thought they sucked.

  8. I’m ready for this as soon as I get over the Megatron touchdown non-catch. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but did anyone else also notice that was Mike Peiorioriaorius’ first broadcast? Hmm.

  9. I really hope this isn’t gonna ruin the season. I’ve alrsady thought refs were paid off. It would be truly disappointing bc I do love football and my team. You can’t just replace that with another league. It’s been your whole life that this has been a part of your life. I’m really looking forward to the season this year. Sadly I do see nightmare calls ahead. Can’t challenge penalties still and this only requires some form of contact for the ref to call it if he wants. The backyard parties, games at the stadium, games while camping could all be ruined with outrage, frustration and disappointment. Let’s hope not.

  10. You know, Florio…I never thought I’d say it, but i actually agree with you completely. You summed it rather well-removing the “Unnecessary” descriptor from the rule makes it murkier, and does nothing else. No other purpose is served except to widen the definition of what constitutes a penalty and what does not.

  11. Nice Train in Vain reference but how many readers know the Clash, let alone that song. Good as it is.

  12. usmutts says:
    June 26, 2018 at 5:35 pm

    “…Just wait until the playoffs and a potential game winning touchdown is called back because some right tackle’s helmet tapped some pass rusher’s helmet.”

    I dont have to wait that long. The very first time I see any game, decided on a penalty by this rule, I think that will be it for me. And I’m not just talking about my team’s games…Any team or any game, period.

  13. The Clash is hardly some underground band. If you don’t believe me, watch any of the London games this year, and you will hear London Calling at least once per game, as surely as you hear Smells Like Teen Spirit in every single nationally televised Seahawks game.

  14. They just don’t understand that fans won’t keep watching large gains and losses of yardage being dictated by rules, not play. Games play out like some sort of moot court these days with results being adjudicated not earned through competition.

  15. Maybe that 2nd fall football league, is just what the NFL needs, to prompt a removal of it’s over sized head from a bodily orifice.
    Billionaires are not going to like losing even more money, and especially to a competing league.
    I love football, and want to see it the way it used to be played.

  16. In the name of player safety and fear of potential lawsuits, the NFL is going to destroy this League! This rule, along with many others, has taken away the players ability to play defense and stop the opposing team’s offense.The game is nothing compared to the game of 40 plus years ago and is becoming an incessant bore.Constant commercials interrupting game flow, flags thrown every other play or more,Anthem protests, extreme high prices for tickets, parking and vendors and you have a perfect formula for disaster and I cannot possibly see how the NFL will survive this , even in the short term.I find it very difficult to believe the powers that be in NY cannot see this ! I watch 1/10 as much football as I did just two years ago and I have been a fan since 1956 !. I can tell you there are many who feel as I do ! db

  17. Some of the best memories I have involve games…bet everyone feels that way. I seriously would be upset if you no longer had it to look forward to because it’s all bs and the game stops every other play for a review of some sort, and penalties are already being called constantly. I want to enjoy games and eat drink and be happy during them. Ok so not when you lose but you can accept a loss when it’s legit and not what I fear happens ahead.

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