John Harbaugh's vision for expanding instant replay still has a chance of getting added to the NFL rule book.
The Ravens head coach made national headlines Tuesday with his passionate explanation for the need to expand reviewable plays, and the NFL announced Wednesday that it would discuss the issue further at the league meetings in May.
Baltimore's proposal to expand replay was officially tabled until that point, but the sentiment is that the league is moving in the direction Harbaugh and the Ravens want.
"We think there is some merit to the proposal," Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay said. "We're going to look at that. We're going to meet as a committee. We're going to talk to the membership and we're going to look at trying to submit a proposal off of Baltimore's that re-writes the rule and re-writes the language, and submit in May for a vote."
The proposal from the Ravens would change the language in the rule to allow all plays to be reviewed, with the exception of eight plays that are deemed judgement calls. Examples of a judgement include pass interference, holding and illegal contact.
"Our rule is just a simplification," Harbaugh said. "It makes it easier for the fans. It makes it easier for the officials, for the coaches."
Harbaugh has been a proponent of expanding replay for years, and he expressed optimism from this week's owners meetings that "there's no question that replay is going to pass eventually."
Harbaugh has an ally in Owner Steve Bisciotti, who believes that giving officials all the potential tools to make the correct calls is in the best interest of the game.
"I am a huge proponent of getting it right, getting it better," Bisciotti said. "There are interactions on the field that seven referees cannot do real time."
The challenge for the Ravens in getting the proposal passed this spring is that some coaches and teams are still hesitant to make that move. Coaches have raised concerns about adding length to the games and other unintended consequences that could result from more reviews.
"I'm a traditionalist," Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said. "I'm not into it. I'm not. The essence of replay initially was for the significant, game-changing plays. It's a tool of officiating. I like to leave it in that box."
Eligible Receiver Rule Voted Down
The other proposal the Ravens had on the table this week dealt with the eligible/ineligible receiver rule, but the ownership voted down that change.
The proposal would have required players with ineligible numbers to put on a jersey vest with an eligible number before coming onto the field and declaring himself as an eligible receiver. Bisciotti said he didn't expect that idea to pass, but the suggestion came after the Ravens were on the wrong end of an official's call for that play in last year's loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
"I think what happened in [John] Urschel's case is ridiculous, and I think we're responding to that," Bisciotti said. "If the system is capable of a guy saying he was distracted, then something should be done."* *
Two More Rules Pass
The NFL approved seven rule changes on Tuesday, and they added two more Wednesday morning.
Here are the two additional rule changes, which were both approved for a one-year trial basis:
- Player gets disqualified if he is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.
- Changes the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line.
Moving the line of scrimmage after the touchback to the 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line has caused some concern among coaches, and it could result in teams changing their approach to kickoffs.
"We're going to look at it in a way that we may kick it off at the goal line as high as we can and get the return team at the 12, 15-yard line," Harbaugh said. "It's going to be really hard for us to say, hey we're going to surrender the 25-yard line as a kickoff coverage team. That's really not in the spirit of competition and what we're trying to accomplish here."
The league approved both the touchback rule and the unsportsmanlike conduct ejection rule for one season to see if those changes actually end up improving the game. That is the same approach the NFL took last year with the rule to push back the line of scrimmage for the extra point, and then it ultimately made that a permanent rule this year.
In addition to the rules that passed Wednesday, here is the full list of rule changes from the 2016 owners meetings:
- Permanently moves the line of scrimmage for try kicks to the defensive team's 15-yard line, and allows the defense to return any missed try
- Permits the offensive and defensive play callers on the coaching staffs to use the coach-to-player communication system regardless of whether they are on the field or in the coaches' booth
- Makes all chop blocks illegal
4. Disqualifies a player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls (one-year only)
5. Changes the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line (one-year only)
- Expands the horse collar rule to include when a defender grabs the jersey at the name plate or above and pulls a runner toward the ground
- Makes it a foul for delay of game when a team attempts to call a timeout when it is not permitted to do so
- Eliminates the 5-yard penalty for an eligible receiver illegally touching a forward pass after being out of bounds and re-establishing himself inbounds, and makes it a loss of down
- Eliminates multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession