If NFL team owners vote at next week's Annual League Meeting to ratify the new catch rule that will be placed before them, they will conclude an extensive process that NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent began two years ago.
At that time, Vincent and his staff gathered a group of active and former players to explain, review and debate the current catch rule, which has not had much success at providing a clear demarcation between what is and is not a catch. They watched examples of plays called each way and gathered an understanding of what the rule was, and then they moved on to potentially crafting what it could be.
"We just started with the actual rule itself," Vincent said in a conference call with media Friday morning. "[We] walked through the rule and there was a different interpretation of what someone thought the rule should be and what the actual rule is. Then we, over that last year and then this year, we brought in additional voices, additional video. We had a couple plays that everyone saw.
"Then we said, 'Let's reverse the question. Would you like for this to be a catch?' And then once we asked that question to coaches, the committee. And then to the competition committee, we asked the question, 'Would you like this to be a catch?' and then we begin writing language that would match."
After that point, they focused on three parts of the rule that they wanted to adjust: going to the ground with the ball, slight movement of the ball and the replay standard. Still, thinking about a rules change boiled down to looking at what had been controversial plays and just deciding whether they wanted those plays to be catches.
"When the question was asked, 'Do you want the Calvin Johnson play? Do you want that to be a catch? Do you want the Jesse James to be a catch? The Kelvin Benjamin, do you want those to be catches? The Dez Bryant?' … then we began just working back that way," Vincent said. "And I thought the committee over the last two months, and in particular this week, did a phenomenal job of mapping out and really clarifying [that] less is better."
Ultimately the result was a simpler rule.
"We tried to make it a very definable three-step process, which is control — meaning a clean catch of the ball — two feet down or a body part, and then do anything with the ball that shows it's a football act," said Rich McKay, Atlanta Falcons President & CEO and Competition Committee Chairman.
"That could be reaching for the goal line like [Steelers TE] Jesse James did, that could be reaching for a first-down line, that could be tucking the ball away. That could be a number of things. And lastly, the catch-all to that would be, or if you had enough time to do it and just didn't do it because you didn't need to. You could be in the end zone and caught the ball and held it that long and could have done something with it, but you didn't."
The goal was to clear up a key question for fans, players, coaches and officials, and if team owners see it that way next week and vote for a change, the NFL may have a solution to its most contentious rule.
"We think we got to a good place," Vincent said. "There's a proposal that's obviously that we are presenting next week with the hopes that we've at least addressed what the fans and most players and coaches think is something that's been long overdue."