The NFL has 24 days to fix the new rule that prohibits lowering the helmet and initiating contact with the helmet. Before the NFL can fix the helmet rule, the NFL first must admit that the helmet rule needs to be fixed, which likely won’t be happening.
But in the unlikely event that the NFL has a moment of clarity regarding the complete lack of clarity regarding the new helmet rule, we’ve applied a little elbow grease to the 21-word clusterfudge that threatens to turn football into a blend of sumo wrestling, two-hand touch, and tuck, duck, and roll.
Here’s the new language, codified at Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8: “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.”
It represents a near-complete gutting of the 2017 version of Rule 12-2-8, which said this: “It is a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler against an opponent shall not be a foul.”
The 2018 revision transforms the 2013 rule prohibiting the horizontal battering ram maneuver (which already was known as “spearing,” and clearly a foul) into a much, much broader provision. Gone are key words like “forcible” and “incidental,” creating an all-encompassing banishment of any and all lowering of the helmet and initiation of contact, regardless of whether the player accidentally did it and/or didn’t deliver a punishing blow.
To fix the problem, this is the new rule that the NFL should adopt immediately: “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate contact and makes forcible contact with his helmet against an opponent. Incidental contact by the player’s helmet with an opponent shall not be a foul.”
That’s all that needs to be done to ensure that the rule as written doesn’t become applied as written, creating a major problem for the NFL throughout the 2018 season and until the rule inevitably is changed.
Make no mistake about it. The rule inevitably will be changed. The NFL can either do it now, before a full season is marred by the new rule, or do it later, after realizing that the proper application of a bad rule has affected the outcome of contests, influenced the process of qualifying for the postseason, and/or impacted the final score of playoff games, up to and including Super Bowl LIII.
It’s inexcusable, frankly, for the league to knowingly embrace this genuine threat to the integrity of the game (as opposed to trumped-up threats like varying air pressure in footballs), when a quick and easy fix is so readily available.
So that’s the most important question to be resolved over the next 24 days. The NFL knows the pipe is leaking. The NFL knows how to fix it. Will the league admit that a fix is needed before the pipe bursts?