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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

More Numbers and Fewer Cut Dates: NFL Approves Rule Changes

NFL players at most position will now be able to wear the zero jersey if they so desire, and the preseason roster cuts will now all come down to a single deadline


One of the matters on the agenda for the 2023 NFL Annual Meeting in Arizona this week was the consideration of a list of proposed changes to the league's playing rules, procedures and bylaws. There were a total of 17 rule change proposals, five bylaw proposals and four resolution proposals regarding issues such as injury report structure and preseason roster cuts. In the end, the NFL's owners voted to approve nine changes to the rules, three new bylaws and three resolutions.

All of the proposed changes were submitted by either the influential Competition Committee or one or more of the NFL's 32 teams. Among the more high-profile proposals that did not pass were the substitution of one fourth-and-20 play for an onside kick (by Philadelphia); the making of roughing-the-passer penalties reviewable (by the L.A. Rams); and the adoption of the NCAA-style rule on kickoffs wherein a fair catch inside the 25-yard line counts as a touchback, placing the ball at the 25.

There were also a number of dry procedural changes that won't register with the average fan during football season. For instance, the claiming period for players waived on the Friday and Saturday of the last week of the regular season has been extended to the following Monday. You can wow your friends with that scintillating tidbit next January, if you remember it that long.

There are, however, a handful of changes that will noticeably affect how we watch games or follow our team's preparations. Here are four of them:

1. Players can now wear number zero (0).

The NFL has relaxed a lot of its former rules about which player positions can wear jerseys in which number ranges in the last few years. Now they've added another option for the majority of players: Zero.

Every player who was previously eligible to wear numbers in the 1-19 range – which, thanks to recent revisions, now includes everyone except offensive and defensive linemen – can now also pull on a very eye-catching "0" jersey. Many players across the league will soon be making history for their respective franchises as the first to play in a zero jersey.

In Buccaneer history, the jersey number that has been worn by the fewest number of players is 63. That was given to future Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon after he was drafted first overall in Tampa Bay's inaugural 1976 season. He wore it for nine seasons (including the last one spent on injured reserve) and then it was retired by the team and thus never donned again. Now, however, whichever Buccaneer first chooses to put on the zero jersey will join Selmon as a one-of-a-kind for the franchise. At least for a while.

2. Fourth downs may spark a new rush of replays.

The Houston Texans proposed that the Replay Official's jurisdiction should be expanded to included failed fourth-down conversion attempts, and the owners voted to approve the change.

Prior to the change, there were eight categories in which the Replay Official or the Senior Vice President of Officiating could initiate a review, ranging from plays that begin after the two-minute warning of each half to when an on-field official makes a ruling of an interception. Now there are nine such categories, with the Replay Official checking in whenever an onfield official rules that a fourth-down conversion attempt failed.

Considering how difficult such judgments can be when there are masses of huge men all piled up in a small area, and how infrequently coach's challenges work in this situation, it remains to be seen if this new opportunity for the Replay Official leads to any meaningful change.

3. A major loophole in the way the weekly injury report is constructed has been closed.

In the week leading up to each game in the NFL's regular season and postseason, the teams involved produce multiple injury reports that detail what body parts are injured and how much the injured players participated in practice. On the final injury report, which is usually produced on Friday before Sunday games, a game-status designation is added, listing a player as Out, Doubtful, Questionable or Not listed.

Teams are required to list every player who missed the previous game due to injury or is dealing with a notable injury in practice. That's true for all players…except, arguably, the most injured ones.

After players land on injured reserve or other reserve lists, they sometimes become eligible to return to the active roster. The first step is to designate such a player for return, at which point he can start practicing with his team and do so for up to three weeks before counting against the 53-man active roster. And because that player is not on the 53-man roster, he does not have to be included on the injury report. Often, those players are activated to the 53-man roster the day before the game, after the final injury report is produced.

The L.A. Chargers proposed changing that provision so that such players do have to be included on the injury report, and in an obvious common sense move, the rest of the league voted it in.

4. One and only one cut-down deadline.

One of this year's proposed resolutions was to change the procedure of how each team's roster is reduced from the 90 players with which it starts training camp to the regular-season limit of 53. The fact that 25 different teams – including the Buccaneers – submitted this proposal, it was obviously going to pass.

The league used to have teams trim down to the regular-season limit on three separate cut dates, and then in recent years reduced that to two. Now it will all happen at once, on the Tuesday following the last week of preseason games. This year, the deadline for final roster cuts will be on August 29.

Allowing teams to maintain rosters of up to 90 players through the entire preseason provides greater flexibility late in the preseason, when many established veterans are held out to reduce the risk of injury. It also gives teams more time to develop players, which has taken on added importance with the expansion of practice squads and the new rules allowing game day elevations of those practice squad players.

Here's a rundown of all the rules changes and proposals approved by the owners on Tuesday:

2023 Approved Playing Rules Summary

1. By Philadelphia; amends Rule 5, Section 1, Article 2, to permit the use of zero ("0") as a jersey numeral; to allow kickers and punters to use any jersey numeral between 0-49 and 90-99.

3. By Los Angeles Chargers; amends Rule 4, Section 6, Article 3 and Section 7, Article 4, to make the adjustment of the play clock following an Instant Replay reversal consistent with other timing rules.

7. By Houston; amends Rule 15, Section 1, Article 2, to expand the Replay Official's jurisdiction to allow for review on failed fourth down attempts.

10. By Competition Committee; to change the definition of a launch to leaving one or both feet.

11. By Competition Committee; to make the penalty for tripping a personal foul.

12. By Competition Committee; to make the penalty for illegally handing the ball forward consistent with other illegal acts, such as illegal forward passes.

13. By Competition Committee; to make the penalty for illegal punts, drop kicks, or placekicks consistent with other illegal acts, such as illegal forward passes.

15. By Competition Committee; to prevent the offense from benefitting by an extension of the half as a result of their foul.

17. By Competition Committee; to clarify use of the helmet against an opponent by removing the "butt, ram, spear" language from Article 8 and incorporating those actions into Impermissible Use of the Helmet.

2023 Approved Bylaws Summary

3. By Competition Committee; to change the claiming period to Monday for players who are waived on the Friday and Saturday of the last week of the regular season.

4. By Competition Committee; to insert Strength of Victory as the second tiebreaker for awarding contracts.

5. By Competition Committee; to adjust the rules for postseason signings to account for standard elevations rule; to freeze postseason rosters at 4:00 PM New York Time on the Wednesday following the last week of the regular season.

2023 Approved Resolutions Summary

G-2. By Buffalo; to make the regular season and postseason roster transaction deadlines the same; changes the transaction deadline for Saturday night postseason games to 4:00 p.m., New York time on Saturday.

G-3. By Los Angeles Chargers; to provide greater clarity as to a player's availability for a game.

G-4. By New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Carolina, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota, New York Jets, Philadelphia, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Washington; to establish one preseason roster reduction date and related procedures.

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