Rules proposals on the docket for Annual League Meeting

The three rules-change proposals offered by the Broncos for discussion at the Annual League Meeting in Phoenix are among a series of proposed tweaks that team officials will disseminate beginning Sunday.

The climate appears to be favorable for more changes, due to the success of alterations that achieved two key objectives: a reduction in concussions and a quickened game.

Last year's changes to kickoffs resulted in a 35 percent reduction in concussions on those plays alone. The first Competition Committee proposal involves making those changes permanent.

Other recent alterations -- including expanded protections to defenseless players and increased punishment for various forms of helmet-to-helmet contact -- helped contribute to a 25 percent drop in concussions across the board, McKay said.

A series of tweaks over the last three years also yielded a three-minute, 51-second reduction in average game time, from three hours, eight minutes and 18 seconds to three hours, four minutes and 27 seconds. The time lost hasn't affected the raw number of plays per game, but trimmed what Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay referred to as "dead time."

"That's what our fans tell us over and over that they want to see less of: dead time," McKay said.

The Broncos proposed three rules changes. The first, on kickoffs, would give a trailing team one chance in the first quarter to attempt a fourth-and-15 play from its 35-yard line in lieu of an onside kickoff.

"The Denver proposal really goes to the Greg Schiano rules proposal," McKay said, referring to the idea originally espoused by the current New England defensive coordinator and former Buccaneers head coach.

A similar rule exists in the first-year Alliance of American Football. In the AAF, the on-side kick replacement is fourth-and-12 at the offense's 28-yard line. McKay said the Competition Committee monitors other football circuits, including the AAF, for ideas.

"We'll look at that, we'll look at the CFL, college football, and we'll talk to all of them," he said. "We also have to pay attention to our game and the way our game is played, and listen to our players and our coaches and make sure that we're paying attention to them as we begin to craft [any potential changes]."

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Denver's other two proposals involve expanding the scope of automatic instant-replay reviews to include all fourth-down plays that fail to reach the line to gain and all extra-point and two-point conversion attempts. The latter came up during the Broncos' Week 11 win over the Chargers in Los Angeles last November.

These represent two of nine proposed rules changes that involve instant replay. These represent more than half of the 16 overall proposals. 

The Competition Committee submitted two proposals involving instant replay. Both of them incorporate the Broncos’ proposal regarding automatic reviews on extra points and two-point conversions. The first Competition Committee proposal would make pass-interference penalties reviewable. The second proposal would make pass-interference, roughing-the-passer and hit-on-a-defenseless-player penalties subject to coaches’ challenges and review. 

Any expansion of instant replay could result in slowing down the game, which is part of the balance that will be considered.

Kansas City proposed three changes to overtime rules, the most notable of which would guarantee each team one overtime possession. Overtime ideas were discussed "at length" by the Competition Committee said McKay.

"We'll see how the proposal fares,” McKay said. “We've had a lot of discussion about the OT procedures over the years, and it's been a good one driven by data."

“Data tells us since 2001, 80 percent of the time, both teams touch the ball [in overtime],” said Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations. "And just putting on my old cap, you've got to play D. You've got to stop the offense, and when the offense gets on the field, you've got to score.

“There's something about that -- not just tradition -- but you've got to play ball. Statistically, when people raise it, it's because they fell short on the other end. They didn't, the team that won the toss, took the ball down the field, which happens maybe 20 percent of the time. Other than that, you've got to play ball.”

McKay also said the NFL will experiment with an eighth official during the preseason, but the league is still trying to determine where on the field that official would be aligned.

But the key is that an eighth official would be on the field. McKay said there was "no support" in the Competition Committee for having a "sky judge" that could assess penalties from a press-box perch. 

"We went through a lot of what the benefits could be and what the downsides could be," McKay said.

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