When asked by Dom Cosentiono of Deadspin.com to provide the official language of the new helmet rule, the NFL provided the Unnecessary Roughness rule, as revised. After PFT provided its two cents on the apparent expansion of the Unnecessary Roughness rule to prohibit ramming, butting, or spearing with the helmet in a necessary and/or non-rough way, the NFL provided to PFT a separate codification of the new helmet rule.
It will appear in Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8, and it will read as follows: “Use of the Helmet. It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.” The rule calls for a loss of 15 yards, an automatic first down (if committed by the defense), and possible disqualification for the player who commits the foul.
This effort to clarify the rule actually creates more confusion, apart from the fact that the league office has now identified two different rules to two different media outlets as the codification of the new helmet rule. Although Rule 12-2-8 surely represents the official rule (since it tracks the precise language of the 11th-of-10 proposals made by the Competition Committee in March), the modification to the Unnecessary Roughness rule can’t be ignored.
For example Rule 12-2-8 expressly applies only when a player lowers his helmet and initiates contact. The new Unnecessary Roughness rule contains no such limitations, encompassing generally any an and all spearing, ramming, or butting with any part of the helmet, with no requirement that the action be unnecessary or violent.
The combination arguably creates far broader prohibitions than the new helmet rule alone, pulling players who spear, ram, or butt in a non-violent and necessary way without lowering the helmet and without initiating contact within the range of a potential foul.
So, yes, it’s got the potential to be a mess. In large part because it already is a mess. And depending on how the rule is applied, it could be the biggest single change to the game of football since the legalization of the forward pass.
And if you think that’s an exaggeration, give me one rule that has had a greater impact on every aspect of the game than the new helmet rule could have.