The NFL's Spring League Owners Meeting in Chicago produced several key rule changes that will go into effect immediately.
1) Relax rules for on-field celebrations
2) Shorten overtime from 15 minutes to 10 minutes
3) Eliminate first roster cut-down deadline to 75 players
4) Allow two players to return from injured reserve instead of one
Here's a look at each rule and why the change was made:
Relaxed Rules on Celebrations
The NFL has been mocked by fans as the "No Fun League" in recent years because of its strict rules about player celebration. Players grew frustrated that they couldn't show their personality/creativity/joy after making a great play without drawing a penalty flag and $12,000 fine.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been listening, and spoke with more than 80 current and former players about coming to a resolution. On Tuesday, Goodell sent a letter to fans explaining the changes.
A few examples of celebrations that will be allowed are using the football as a prop after a touchdown, celebrating on the ground (such as snow angels) and group demonstrations. Banned demonstrations (such as sexually suggestive behavior like twerking), celebrations that are prolonged and delay the game and those directed at an opponent will still be penalized.
"We are relaxing our rules on celebrations to allow players more room to have fun after they make big plays," Goodell wrote. "We know that you love the spontaneous displays of emotion that come after a spectacular touchdown. And players have told us they want more freedom to be able to express themselves and celebrate their athletic achievements."
The rule change is aimed at helping to improve player safety. Having the players on the field for 90 minutes of regulation is physically demanding enough. Asking them to play for potentially another 15 increases risk of injury when players are already tired, especially for those coming off a short week.
A concern is that it could lead to more tie games, but the stats show it will not have a major effect. According to NFL Research, if overtime had ended after 10 minutes in all games over the past five years, there would have been 16 total ties. That's an average of 3.2 times over a 512-game season. Only 22 of the 83 overtime games played over the past five years went beyond 10 minutes (average time is 7 minutes, 43 seconds).
One Fewer Round of Roster Cuts
Instead of going from 90 players to 75, and then 75 to 53, on the roster, teams will now have just one final cut from 90 to 53. This has its advantages, though it will make the job more difficult for general managers, head coaches and pro personnel departments, as well as fans trying to predict their team's roster.
On the plus side, 480 players (15 per team) will have more opportunities to prove themselves and make the squad. More practice time is also good for their development. Teams will also have more players for the fourth preseason game, when many coaches are just looking to keep their key players healthy heading into the regular season and get one final look at bubble players and practice squad possibilities.
However, the release of 1,184 players (37 per team) all at once will make it more taxing for front offices to sort through their cuts, as well as all those released by others who they may want to add to their team.
One More Player Off Injured Reserve
In 2012, the NFL began allowing each team to designate one player to return from injured reserve (IR) in the middle of the season. It's the rule the Ravens used to permit Ray Lewis to rejoin the 53-man roster after tearing his triceps in mid-October that year en route to Super XLVII glory.
The league has liked the results so much, that it is now expanding it to allow teams to bring back two players from IR. The player must be on IR for at least six weeks and they can return to games after sitting out eight weeks. Teams also don't have to designate the player they will bring back ahead of time.
The rule gives teams more roster flexibility and allows key players to come back for critical late-season games if they suffer an early-season injury.