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League opts for tweaks, not radical changes

Player safety was the focus of most of the rules changes that passed via a vote of the teams before the NFL meetings in Phoenix adjourned Wednesday.

The key safety rules passed included:

  • A proposal to ban teams from pushing one teammate into another on punt rushes;
  • An expansion on the prohibition of peel blocks from players in the tackle box to those anywhere on the field;
  • A prohibition on chop blocks by running backs;
  • A penalty for a hit on a defenseless receiver on an interception -- which would have led to a Seahawks penalty when Earl Thomas hit Wes Welker as Kam Chancellor picked off a fourth-quarter pass in Week 3 of last season at Seattle. The hit was legal under the previous definition in the rule book.

But the most profound change finalized this week remained the expansion of the ATC spotter's jurisdiction. The spotter will now be able to buzz down to game officials when a player appears to be suffering from concussion symptoms.

An overtime alteration proposed by the Bears to guarantee each team at least one possession -- mimicking the system used for decades in the Arena Football League -- did not pass, so the situation that worked for the Broncos in the 2011 wild-card win at Pittsburgh and against them at Seattle last September remains.

The committee tabled a vote on changing extra-point rules until the May meeting. But Competition Committee co-chairman Rich McKay expects the status quo to vanish in some form given the tenor of discussions, which included allowing the defense to score two points via an interception or fumble return of a conversion attempt, as is the case in college football.

"I think there's a clear sentiment that there is a movement to want to change, we want a change this year and I think the charge to us as the Competition Committee was come back with a recommended proposal, do it in the next 30 days and give everybody a chance to look at it and vote on it in May," McKay said.

While extra points appear likely to become more challenging in some way, nothing changed regarding the postseason field, which will remain at 12 teams: four division winners and two wild-card qualifiers per conference.

"Several factors went into the decision to at least postpone the expanded playoffs," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "Some of them would be on the competitive side."

Although five teams with 10 or more wins have missed the playoffs since 2008, four .500 or worse clubs qualified for the postseason in that span. Of course, all four of those teams won their postseason openers.

Other factors include the timing of the extra two games on wild-card weekend that a 14-team postseason would necessitate, and whether they would be added to the Saturday/Sunday doubleheaders, or played in prime time on a Thursday or Monday night -- the latter of which may not be an option because of the college football playoff.

Among the minor tweaks passed were an expansion of instant replay to include timing issues on the play clock and at the end of each half and permission for linebackers to wear numbers in the 40s during the regular season.

"That passed because we are out of jerseys," McKay said.

This would give Von Miller the chance to return to his college number (40). It would come at a steep cost; other prominent players with number changes have been required to pay back the sum of jerseys already made and unsold with a previous number, which would likely cost around $1,000,000.

The league also approved a proposal to penalize teams from declaring an eligible player ineligible and aligning him outside of the tackle box. The Patriots used that loophole to their advantage in the divsional playoffs, but it will now be a 5-yard illegal substition penalty.

A proposal to allow teams with retractable-roofed stadiums to open them at halftime also passed.

Washington's proposal to eliminate the cut to 75 players and leave one final cut to 53 at the end of the preseason was tabled until the May meeting.

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