Exception for “inadvertent” contact dramatically changes helmet rule

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The headline coming from 345 Park Avenue on Wednesday was that the new helmet rule hasn’t changed, and that it has. But as the dust settles on the non-change change to the rule that prohibits lowering the head to initiate and make contact, one word from the statement released by NFL executive V.P. of officiating Troy Vincent stands out.

Inadvertent.

“Inadvertent or incidental contact with the helmet and/or facemask is not a foul,” Vincent said in the same statement in which he said the rule wouldn’t change.

Inadvertent. As in not resulting from or achieved through deliberate planning. As in not intended.

That’s a hugely critical adjustment to the rule, especially since the prior version of the rule presumed intent based on the lowering of the head.

“I think [Competition Committee chairman] Rich McKay put it best when he said, ‘This is one of the few times that we’re writing intent into the rule,'” NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron said last Friday on the #PFTPM podcast.

And they’ve now partially written intent out of the rule, by allowing for unintended helmet contact, even when the head is lowered and the intent is thereby presumed.

It’s not known how officials will draw the line between inadvertent and intentional helmet contact, but given that the goal is to prevent players from adopting a linear posture and ramming their helmets into an opponent (which increases dramatically the risk of serious neck injury), the phrase “inadvertent or incidental contact” quite possibly limits the rule to the combination of bad posture (head low, eyes down) and solid impact, with the top/crown of the helmet striking the opponent.

In other words, it’s possible that the hit won’t be regarded as something other than incidental or inadvertent unless the players lowers his head and makes forcible contact with the top/crown of the helmet against an opponent.

So the rule that the NFL insists it didn’t change has actually been overhauled, if the word “inadvertent” is given its plain and obvious meaning, and if the search for inadvertent contact unfolds through the application of basic logic and common sense. While awkward and clumsy in form, it’s potentially encouraging in result, because it could mean that penalties will be called only when the player lowers his head and delivers a forceful blow with the top of his helmet, and not when any type of helmet contact occurs after the player adopts a posture that could lead to a forbidden hit.

68 responses to “Exception for “inadvertent” contact dramatically changes helmet rule

  1. Great. So the refs get to decide a player’s “intent”. What could go wrong here?

    The refs could literally penalize Vontaze Burfict on every play. I wonder what guys like Ronnie Lott think about this rule?

  2. This is never going to be a great rule, just due to the intended nature of the sport, but this is a good adjustment and at least allows the refs consider intent rather than just a hard and fast “no helmet to helmet contact” rule.

  3. It isn’t (or shouldn’t be) hard – don’t lead with the head and don’t target the head. Both have always been illegal in the parent game, rugby, but over the decades the development of robocop helmets (& armor instead of mere padding) enables gridiron players to recklessly launch themselves at opponents and enabled coaches to teach simply making full speed killer-hits instead of actual (and relatively much safer) old fashioned rugby-style tackling.

  4. Remind me again…between this stupid new rule, the fiddling on the National Anthem issue while Rome burns , and let’s not forget the bungling of the Ray Rice incident…what do the owners pay Fidel Goodell 40 million dollars per year for?

  5. Unfortunately, the back and forth about this rule gives ammo to the tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists who believe that the games are fixed. Between the number of league office people and the field officials who would have to be involved in fixing NFL games, such an occurrence is impossible without someone going public with that information.

  6. Sweet.

    So now the refs and the league office have so convoluted the “helmet rule” to where they can decide on any given play who gets flagged. Then add the “Aaron Roger’s rule #3”, and mere tackling the QB is now roughing the passer.

    Got hand it to Goodell’s NFL. They can choose whatever team, game or player they want to benefit.
    NFL = National Fixed League

  7. All this does is gives the refs even more wiggle room to screw up and decide games.

    I guarantee you that in the first week we will see in the same game a player on side A called for the penalty who clearly makes incidental contact, and a player on side B not called for the penalty who clearly lowered his helmet and used it to intentionally strike another player. Probably in multiple games for that matter.

  8. Stupid exception – either hits with a helmet are bad or they aren’t. There should not be an exception. I cannot think of an inadvertent hit by the helmet that would be inadvertent other than the intentional use of the helmet by a QB on a sneak which is already an exception to the rule. The rule should be clear – lead or lower your head to hit with a helmet or to engage with another player and you receive a penalty. That is the only way to get these fools not to use their helmets as weapons.

  9. What a mess and there does not seem to be any end in sight. This rule was just another move for the owners to cover their butt as far as protection from concussion/brain damage lawsuits. If they were not scared ess-less about future lawsuits they would let the players go at each other with chainsaws and hatchets. That is how little they actually care about player safety.

  10. In situations when it’s not obvious spearing, how does a ref decide what a player was thinking in a split second before a hit? They’ll need to carry a crystal ball in their non flag pocket.

  11. Brilliant, they made a rule that was already fairly vague and basically up to the refs discretion and made it so that the refs have even more power and ability to decide games.

    I swear man, every year the NFL tops its self with an even dumber rule and or public stance.

    Its almost comical besides the fact its ruining the game and is gonna change the outcomes of games/careers.

  12. in a sport where the integrity of some officials is clearly in question, allowing these officials to penalize on “intent” is disastrous and will only lead to erosion of trust the NFL once had

  13. They should just go back to the original “no spearing” rule. You can’t use the crown of the helmet as a weapon…period. Use the old ‘bar’ rule: ask 10 guys in a bar if any particular play is a penalty and if they all can agree it is, then it is.

  14. So they will do what, ask the guy? Hey, did you mean to do that or was it an accident? Or are the refs now telepathic? The NFL office is grossly inept.

  15. “Both have always been illegal in the parent game, rugby, but over the decades the development of robocop helmets (& armor instead of mere padding)”
    _______________

    That is precisely where the NFL is going wrong in dealing with CTE. The newer helmets they brag about are exactly like the old ones–indestructible with no give to absorb impact. Think of how car crumple zones protect passengers–football helmet are like 1950s cars which were tanks but deathtraps in an accident. Eliminating helmets completely would instantly stop guys from leading with their head. Crushable helmets (along the lines of bicycle helmets) would absorb more force while also taking away the feeling of invulnerability guys get from the current helmets. Those are the two most logical changes but nothing the NFL does on this is intended to actually change anything–it’s all just for PR purposes.

  16. Florio is correct in that adding “inadvertant” language into the rule will make the rule better.

    I do wish they had added “Using the crown of the helmet” will be a foul and any other part of the helmet will not. That would of helped.

    I don’t like rules being subjective and leaving it open to officials as to when to throw the flag and when not is a problem. You then get the “Well that looked bad so I’m throwing the flag” calls. The game looks violent at times and you can’t change that. If you do then the NFL will go the way of boxing and no longer be #1.

  17. Sorry, but Troy Vincent’s comment is NOT a dramatic change.

    On July 6, PFT reported that the NFL added this note to the rule: “This provision does not prohibit incidental contact by the mask or the helmet in the course of a conventional tackle or block on an opponent.”

  18. .
    I think what they’re trying to delineate here is the difference between a guy trying to make a legitimate tackle where his helmet makes inadvertent contact and someone trying to “deliver a blow”. With the speed of today’s game it would seem to be a can’t win situation for the refs. Second guessers will have a Monday morning orgy dissecting the calls and non calls.
    .

  19. cardinealsfan20 says:

    August 23, 2018 at 10:03 am

    Unfortunately, the back and forth about this rule gives ammo to the tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists who believe that the games are fixed. Between the number of league office people and the field officials who would have to be involved in fixing NFL games, such an occurrence is impossible without someone going public with that information
    ——————-
    I think on merit your point is likely correct.

    But the league office is watching every game to help decide live officiating.
    And then there is the referee’s fixing NBA games several years ago.
    It’s not as impossible as you think.

  20. “Inadvertent or incidental contact with the helmet and/or facemask is not a foul,” Vincent said in the same statement in which he said the rule wouldn’t change.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    The wording here is odd. It implies that contact with the facemask IS a foul if it isn’t incidental. That has never been a foul as far as I know.

  21. The NFL is becoming the never-ending joke that writes itself. For the sake of the League, someone please fire lying Goodell already.

  22. i don’t get why people are so worked up over a penalty that’s averaging two calls per game, out of all the tackles and blocks in a game that’s a very low percentage compared to something like holding penalties.

  23. While awkward and clumsy in form, it’s potentially encouraging in result, because it could mean that penalties will be called only when the player lowers his head and delivers a forceful blow with the top of his helmet, and not when any type of helmet contact occurs after the player adopts a posture that could lead to a forbidden hit.
    __________

    Forceful hit or not, the posture should dictate intent. You can’t allow a player to hit illegally just because the hit is not forceful enough to cause injury.

    That would be like a cop pulling over a drunk driver and then letting them go “because they didn’t harm anyone”.

  24. Let the owners go play their golf!..As for me…I am going to stick my money back in my pocket and take back my Sundays !…The NFL has destroyed the watchability of this game and neutered it to the point of being unwatchable !…you can have it…not me….anymore… after 57 years of being a fan !

  25. great another rule that is going to be called different in every game. we dont want or need the Refs trying to ” decide ” if its a penalty or not.

  26. Again, get over it. This isn’t drama, and it is what fans have been asking for since the new policy was released. At least in the right direction because I agree it could be called differently every game. But at least it is better than what was there yesterday. I don’t need anyone to admit anything (that’s BS), I need the rule to change to bring my game back.

  27. The NFL loves rules that are vague and ambiguous, and designed to give the refs the power to decide the outcomes of games.
    Geez… after years of wrangling, we still don’t know what a catch is.

  28. After reading this post I inadvertently bashed my head into the computer screen. My dog threw a flag and I requested instant replay. Denied…..

  29. media froths at the mouth, coaches whine they’re confused, goodell’s stooges flip flop and backtrack to cover their idiocy; Belichick shrugs and explains he coaches it the right way, then they all get in line. would be so much easier to just let belichick rule on everything to start with.

  30. TruthfulDolphinsFanNotWearingBlinders says:
    August 23, 2018 at 9:51 am
    Lets just go to flag football at this point, make it understandable for everyone.
    +++++++++++++++++
    You probably still wouldn’t understand.

  31. This is becoming a sport designed by lawyers, managed by marketing executives, and played by people who hate the country where it’s played. So exciting.

  32. They’ll pick and choose when and who to throw the flags on.. No different than holding or PI.

  33. The helmet rule is stupid. You know it’s stupid when you start adding vague addendums written by lawyers to fix it (see the catch rule).

    There are already rules on the books for unnecessary roughness, hitting a defenseless receiver, using the crown of the helmet, etc… How about enforcing the rules you already have in a consistent way, rather than piling on another confounding rule.

  34. I am so sick of this. Not the NFL, not the rules, but the fans complaining about EVERYTHING! The fans are ruining this sport. It is obvious what the NFL is trying to do. Is it a knee jerk reaction to the reports of CTE and watching players become perilously close to paralyzation? Absolutely. But it absolutely must be done. It will have growing pains, but you can’t fault the NFL for putting in a rule to prevent players leading with or using their helmets as a weapon.

  35. cardinealsfan20 says:
    August 23, 2018 at 10:03 am
    Unfortunately, the back and forth about this rule gives ammo to the tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists who believe that the games are fixed. Between the number of league office people and the field officials who would have to be involved in fixing NFL games, such an occurrence is impossible without someone going public with that information.

    Agreed, if there had been a scheme to deflate footballs someone would have come forward by now.

  36. HS football in the late 80s required each helmet to have a safety sticker. Lack of a sticker was a penalty. The sticker said “Do not use this helmet to butt, ram or spear an opposing player…”. I remember because we used to laugh at “butt-ram” part, but that’s not the point. The point is this rule has always been there at all levels. But since the NFL paid a big settlement for head injuries, lawyers have convinced them that it must be re-branded as new, polished and increased in scope.

  37. TruthfulDolphinsFanNotWearingBlinders says:
    August 23, 2018 at 9:51 am
    Lets just go to flag football at this point, make it understandable for everyone.

    ————————————————–

    Yea, but then the NFL will penalize players for yanking on the flags too hard.

  38. Tired of the NFL gray areas… Rules should not have exceptions. A catch should always be a catch after the third foot hits down regardless of the football move rule. The bodies normal reaction is to brace for impact which usually means making yourself smaller, more compact and lowering your head a little. I hope this will cover that but these refs are just as confused as the players anymore about league expectations. Football is a violent sport and I just don’t understand how a player can’t understand at this point the risk they are taking for stepping on the field for glory. There should be some type of legal documentation (more than just a waiver) to cover this. The league has done plenty to make the game safer: defenseless receiver, hits to head, chop blocks, crack back blocks, kickoff wedges, etc… but at some point… a player will be concussed or experience life threatening injuries no matter what rules you continue to put in place.

  39. Even more power to these biased officials who can add another weapon to their arsenal to dictate games.

  40. Remember when you all cried like this about hitting the QB low? These are the best athletes in the world, it might take them longer than we all want because it won’t be immediate but I guarantee it’ll be fine eventually and if you don’t like it, stop watching

  41. “Unfortunately, the back and forth about this rule gives ammo to the tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists who believe that the games are fixed. Between the number of league office people and the field officials who would have to be involved in fixing NFL games, such an occurrence is impossible without someone going public with that information
    ——————-
    I think on merit your point is likely correct.

    But the league office is watching every game to help decide live officiating.
    And then there is the referee’s fixing NBA games several years ago.
    It’s not as impossible as you think.”

    I think its highly likely at times. We’ve repeatedly seen Goodell and his cronies show utter and total double standards in punishing or not punishing teams. The Jets, Giants, Steelers, Colts, Ravens and Donks have repeatedly not been penalized or only minimally so for things other teams get the hammer dropped on them for.

    We saw the league admit it changed the catch rule for the Super Bowl last year without telling either team they had done so.

    Goodell has direct control of the “officiating” that goes on in the league office. Its hard to believe he won’t apply the same double standards to those decisions.

  42. Carroll Prescott says:
    August 23, 2018 at 10:06 am
    Stupid exception – either hits with a helmet are bad or they aren’t. There should not be an exception. I cannot think of an inadvertent hit by the helmet that would be inadvertent other than the intentional use of the helmet by a QB on a sneak which is already an exception to the rule. The rule should be clear – lead or lower your head to hit with a helmet or to engage with another player and you receive a penalty. That is the only way to get these fools not to use their helmets as weapons.

    ——–

    Have you ever even watched an NFL football game?

  43. Sadly, my interest level in the NFL decreases further & further every year. I use to love the NFL, then I liked the NFL, then I sort of unwillingly accepted some of the BS they kept rolling out. But now, it’s become just a bunch of B.S., almost impossible to watch as the refs dictate the outcome of games & weak minded & entitled millennials cry about everything. Tack on to that the Anti-American behavior of these punks who actively choose to defame the American Flag & the Country that gave them this opportunity…and the “Tarnished Shield” & it’s subsequent weekly games just become nothing more than a Gravestone Marker of a previously proud National Passtime. Bewildering really…

  44. The NFL is trying to eliminate the unnecessary injuries. The helmet to helmet hits, the defenseless player rule, the low hits to quarterbacks, now the helmet rule. As annoying as it is to watch the NFL try to get it right, it’s in the best interest of the NFL. From lawsuits to lower quality of play from star players being out.

    The helmet rule could be simplified to “don’t use your helmet as a battering ram”. But you have to have to expect confusion from the league that didn’t realize that footballs lose air pressure in cold, wet weather.

  45. “Point of emphasis” started 4 years ago which resulted in defensive holding, pass interference calls increasing dramatically. Not to mention all the personal foul calls in the name of player safety. After every big play the first thing you do is look for and or wait for a flag. Now with this new rule its put it over the top for me, after 15 years of paying $300 a year for the Sunday Ticket I’ve canceled it. The first question he asked was, “Is it because of the protests? No, they’ve changed the game so dramatically with the rules its unwatchable.

  46. TruthfulDolphinsFanNotWearingBlinders that won’t work either. The Patriots would either use teflon coated flags, shorten them, or sew them to their pants, making it all but impossible to pull out the flag.

  47. The more subjective they make this or any rule the more likely corrupt and biased calls will occur. They need to scrap this rule change until they clearly define the do’s and don’ts.

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