Owners to Discuss Potential Rules Changes

The NFL owners meetings will be next week in Florida and the movers and shakers of the league will discuss wild finishes, wild cards and wild hair, among other things.

Every year the NFL's competition committee looks to make minor changes that the committee feels are in the best interests of the game. Such changes in past years have provided extra protection for quarterbacks, created the "five-yard" rule for a defender pushing a receiver downfield and, perhaps the best innovation the game has seen, instant replay.

This year, the competition committee has made some recommendations that the league owners will vote on next week at one of their annual meetings in Palm Beach, Fla. One that is getting plenty of attention would be a change that requires a receiver to come down with both feet in bounds for a catch to be ruled valid. Many times we've seen players go up for receptions and, whether they could have got both feet down or not, because they got pushed by a defender, have been ruled to have a completion due to being forced out of bounds. The new proposal would require a receiver to have both feet in-bounds regardless of whether he gets pushed out – a rules change that would seem at face value to make sense. If teams want to use the sidelines as their friend, they had better leave enough room because the rules won't give them that push-out leeway anymore.

Other matters that are going to get the opportunity to be voted on will be the annual request from the Chiefs to increase the number of playoff teams.

One item that has a great chance of passing is a plan to seed the playoff teams by record – which would allow a wild card team that currently would be no higher than the fifth seed to move as high as No. 3 if its record dictates (a wild card still couldn't get a first-round bye).

A plan adopted from the college and high school game would let teams that win an opening coin toss defer to the second half if they choose.

Another interesting plan would be the elimination of the five-yard "incidental" facemask penalty and make all penalties for facemask 15 yards whether intentional or not.

Finally, one potential rules change that seems like a meaningless change would allow coaches to challenge field goals as to whether a ball was over or under the crossbar or inside or outside one of the uprights. Kicks that go over the top of the goal posts would not be subject to review, begging the question that if an official misses a call on a field goal directly over his head, what is he doing as a referee in the league to begin with?

The meetings will also include discussions of opening up the window for other teams to talk to agents a week prior to the start of free agency. The 49ers were recently stripped of a draft pick thanks for tampering with the agent of Lance Briggs and the league is looking to avoid more of those situations, which seems to be an ongoing secret that most everyone knows about, which explains how a complicated contract with bonuses and clauses can be finalized in the hours after the start of free agency.

* Perhaps the most interesting topic of discussion on the league owners agenda will be talk about the length of players hair. The current collective bargaining agreement prohibits discipline by teams for facial hair or hair length, but the proposal would ask that players not obscure their nameplate on their jersey with hair – forcing them to impose a new "tuck rule." Considering that NFL owners aren't into dreadlocks, it will be interesting to see how they respond to such a proposal.
* The league announced Wednesday that the Giants and Redskins will play in the season-opening Thursday night game Sept. 4. While that announcement was made, there was no word as to whether the game will be moved forward one-and-a-half hours to a 7 p.m. Eastern time start in order not to conflict with the nomination speech of John McCain at the Rebublican National Convention in the Twin Cities.
* Bucs QB Chris Simms continues to stay away from the team's training facility, including blowing off the annual quarterback orientation session. Simms remains upset with his treatment by the team since having his spleen removed.

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