The Reason NFL Can’t Get Out of Its Own Way


The NFL had their annual owners meeting in Orlando, Florida, where they discussed finances, the future of the league, as well as the rules. The league finally decided to address the infamous “catch” rule that has plagued the validity of crucial playoff games over the past few years, such as Cowboys/Packers in 2015, as well as the Patriots/Steelers in 2017. However, the NFL has decided to institute a new “targeting” rule that has fans and analysts scratching their collective heads as to what makes them believe this will improve the game. The league is reacting to every issue they are dealing with now, rather than being proactive.

With the catch rule finally figured out, the league has decided to continue to focus on player safety by using the same targeting rule that the NCAA has used in its games for the past few seasons. The rule states:

This rule is very broad, as almost every play involves helmet-to-helmet contact. This is anywhere between lineman engaging on the snap, to running backs lowering their heads to fend off tackles. Under the new rule, even the QB sneak could get the quarterback ejected, which would affect players like Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, etc.

In theory, it seems like a common sense rule to try and get rid of unnecessary head shots, especially when you consider players would still be allowed to play after viciously knocking someone out. The problem with enforcing this rule is the concept of human error. A rule like this will require referees to stop games in order to have discussions, and the criticism will shortly follow. Referees, like all people, will make mistakes, and that is part of the game. On the other hand, the league is putting them in a tough spot to potentially swing a game by ejecting a star player that may or may not have intentionally hit a player with his helmet.

Fans and analysts can already see that this rule will not be enforced equally in every game, as defensive players will start to back off from big hits in order to stay in the game. The game we see going forward could resemble a workplace flag football game with defenses on edge about being ejected for even touching the offensive players. In theory, the NFL has traded in its head scratching “catch” rule for a “what are they smoking” targeting rule.

We understand the NFL needs to protect players to make the game safe, but not at this cost. The NFL is trying to do the least amount it can by not dealing with the elephant in the room, which is guaranteed money. If the NFL were to give all players comprehensive healthcare during and after play, many wouldn’t speak out as much about the hits they are taking.

The fact is that every professional sport has career risks that will affect players long after they’re done playing, but these particular athletes are well aware of the concept of power within their salary. The NFL thinks it can just throw a product out there on Sunday and the fans will just flock to it mindlessly; but if the NFL is not careful, fans could soon find something else to entertain themselves on Sundays.

Photo Credit: Gail Burton/AP

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