Reviewing Pass Interference Among NFL's Potential Rule Changes in 2019

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The New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams likely have very different feelings about the infamous "no-call" late in the NFC Championship Game last January. Had pass interference been called on Nickell Robey-Coleman after his collision with Tommylee Lewis on a third-down pass near the goal line, there's a good chance the Saints would have represented the NFC in Super Bowl LIII rather than the Rams.

Similarly, one can assume the Kansas City Chiefs are less fond of the NFL's overtime procedure than are the New England Patriots. The other conference championship game ended with the Patriots scoring a touchdown on the opening possession of the extra period, without league MVP Patrick Mahomes ever touching the ball. Actually, we don't have to assume that one; we know that's true because the Chiefs are trying to get the overtime rules changed.

What is most clear is that the entire NFL as well as much of its fan base cares about those two issues, enough to at least consider changing its rules. The NFL Annual Meetings will take place in Phoenix next week, from Sunday through Wednesday, drawing together owners, general managers, coaches and other prominent league and team officials. The most prominent item on the agenda will be the discussion, and possible adoption, of up to 17 alterations to the rule book, six new bylaws and two resolutions.

The entire list of rule-change proposals can be found below, but the ones sure to receive the most attention are Playing Rule Proposals 6, 6a and 7. The first two deal with the possible expansion of replay review to include such things as pass interference and roughing the passer penalties as reviewable plays. The third, proposed by the Chiefs, would alter the overtime procedures to make sure both teams are ensured of at least one possession in the extra period.

These proposals in particular are likely to draw intense debate, as there are strong feelings on both sides of the issues. Some believe that replay is already too pervasive in the game and should be scaled back rather than expanded. Others consider the often capricious nature – and enormous impact – of pass interference and roughing the passer penalties very frustrating and would support a way to correct those that are clearly in error.

Ironically, Robey-Coleman's hit on Lewis would not have been reviewed even if the proposed changes were already in place because the proposal calls for allowing review on "all fouls for pass interference, roughing the passer, and unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture." Since there was no flag thrown on that play, it wouldn't fall under that umbrella, wider as it may be.

Without a clear consensus, it will be difficult for proponents of either change to get the rules passed, as that would require support from at least 24 of the 32 teams. Rich McKay, the chairman of the NFL's Competition Committee, suggested as much in a conference call on Friday. That said, mere discussion of the topics at the highest level could be the starting point for significant changes down the road, even if the new rules aren't passed next week.

Reactionary rule-change proposals like the two above tend to generate the biggest headlines at the Annual Meetings, but there are quite a few other potential changes that will be tossed around in Phoenix. Those include another attempt to replace the onside kick, this one proposed by the Denver Broncos, with a fourth-and-15 play from the kicking team's 35-yard line. This option could be exercised just once in the fourth quarter.

That proposal is coupled with one (#1 below) to make permanent the significant changes the league made to the kickoff in 2018 on a trial basis. The 2018 rules essentially eliminated the running start for kickoff cover men and forced most of the return team to line up within 15 yards of the kickoff line of scrimmage. It also banned all "wedge" blocks, meaning no two players could combine to block any cover men. All of these rules were instituted in an ongoing attempt to make the kickoff, which has been identified as the most dangerous play in the sport, safer for players.

In that regard, this is a rule that seems likely to pass. However, the word "permanent" is an interesting choice, in that there is a widespread belief, shared here, that the league will continue to tinker with the kickoff in an ongoing process of fully eliminating it from the game. Denver's proposal, or something like it, would aid in that process.

The full list of proposed changes to rules and bylaws follow. Eight of the 16 potential rule changes were proposed by the Competition Committee, the other eight by teams. Several of the changes proposed by teams are variations on the same theme, such as making certain fouls (and non-calls) reviewable. The six potential bylaw changes – one proposed by the Buffalo Bills, the rest by the competition committee – are largely procedural, such as possibly expanding training camp rosters. That's true of the two resolution proposals, too. There was originally a third and far more interesting proposal made by Philadelphia to break up the Cowboys' and Lions' monopoly on hosting Thanksgiving games, but the Eagles have since withdrawn it.

2019 Playing Rule Proposals Summary

1. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 6 to make permanent the kickoff rule changes that were implemented during the 2018 season.

2. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 12 to expand protection to a defenseless player.

3. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 14, Section 5, Article 2 to change the enforcement of double fouls when there is a change of possession.

4. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 11, Section 4, Article 2 to simplify the application of scrimmage kick rules for missed field goals.

5. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 14, Section 2, Article 3 to allow teams to elect to enforce on the succeeding try or on the succeeding free kick an opponent’s personal or unsportsmanlike conduct foul committed during a touchdown.

6. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 15, Section 2 for one year only to expand the reviewable plays in instant replay to include fouls for pass interference; also expands automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any Try attempt (extra point or two-point conversion).

6a. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 15, Section 2 for one year only to expand the reviewable plays in instant replay to include all fouls for pass interference, roughing the passer, and unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture; also expands automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any Try attempt (extra point or two-point conversion).

7. By Kansas City Chiefs; to amend Rule 16 to (1) allow both teams the opportunity to possess the ball at least one time in overtime, even if the first team to possess the ball in overtime scores a touchdown; (2) eliminate overtime for preseason; and (3) eliminate overtime coin toss so that winner of initial coin toss to begin game may choose whether to kick or receive, or which goal to defend.

8. By Denver; to amend Rule 6, Section 1, Article 1 to provide an alternative to the onside kick that would allow a team who is trailing in the game an opportunity to maintain possession of the ball after scoring

9. By Washington; to amend Rule 15, Section 2 to subject all plays that occur during a game to coaches’ challenge by teams or review by the Officiating department in the instant replay system.

10. By Washington; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, Article 5 to add review of personal fouls as reviewable plays in the instant replay system.

11. By Kansas City; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to add review of personal fouls (called or not called on the field) as plays subject to coaches’ challenge in the instant replay system.

12. By Carolina, Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia, and Seattle; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to add review of designated player safety-related fouls (called or not called on the field) as plays subject to coaches’ challenge in the instant replay system.

13. By Philadelphia; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to add scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul to be subject to automatic review in the instant replay system.

14. By Denver; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to add all fourth down plays that are spotted short of the line to gain or goal line to be subject to automatic review in the instant replay system.

15. By Denver; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to add all Try attempts (Extra point or Two-point conversion) to be subject to automatic review in the instant replay system.

16. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 15, Section 1, Article 5 to allow League personnel to disqualify for both flagrant football and non-football acts.

2019 Bylaw Proposals Summary

1. By Buffalo; to amend Article XVII, Section 17.4 to liberalize the rule for reacquisition of a player assigned via waivers.

2. By Competition Committee; to amend Article XVII, Section 17.1 to provide clubs with more roster flexibility during training camp.

3. By Competition Committee; to amend Article XVIII, Section 18.1 to provide teams more effective access to players during the postseason.

4. By Competition Committee; to amend Article XIV, Section 14.3(B)(8) to make the tiebreaking procedures fairer for the selection meeting.

5. By Competition Committee; to amend Article XVII, Section 17.1 to provide additional roster spots during the preseason.

6. By Competition Committee; to amend Article XVII, Section 12.3 to offer more roster flexibility.

2019 Resolution Proposals Summary

G-1. By Competition Committee; to amend the Anti-Tampering Policy to permit an interested club to contact a Vested Veteran before clubs have been notified of the player’s termination via the Player Personnel Notice if (i) the players is not subject to the Waivers System and, (ii) the employer club has publicly announced the player’s release.

G-2. By Washington; to amend current League practices regarding teams’ post-game officiating inquiries and allow opposing teams to receive the League’s post-game responses to any officiating inquiries submitted by either team.

G-3. Withdrawn, By Philadelphia; to continue the annual tradition of having Dallas and Detroit play on Thanksgiving, provided that one of those clubs host a home game with the other club playing away, and alternating home and away games each subsequent season.

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