That was the tone at the NFL owners meetings Tuesday, as the league adopted four player safety rules to begin next season.
One of the rules is likely the result of star quarterback Tom Brady being injured in last year's season opener. The change means that defenders who are knocked to the ground will be unable to legally lunge at a quarterback below the knees. Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard ended Brady's season with such a play and the ramifications were felt by the Vikings, as Jared Allen was subject to the NFL fine police and a face-to-face meeting with league officials for such a hit on Houston QB Matt Schaub last year.
Two of the rules changes involve hitting players in the head. In the past, any helmet-to-helmet hit would result in a 15-yard penalty. The new rule says that any contact to the head of a "defenseless receiver" will result in a 15-yard penalty. The same goes for a blindside block on a defensive player by a wide receiver, the type of play that Hines Ward has been famous for and former Viking Chris Walsh earned a reputation for. That too will now result in a 15-yard penalty.
The fourth change is related to kickoff coverage. Starting this season, no return team can having a blocking wedge of more than two players. If they do, the team will draw a 15-yard penalty. The kicking team can't have more than five players bunched up together to chase down an onside kick, where one of the players typically acts as a gunner trying to knock the receiving team's players away from the ball as it comes down. That would draw a five-yard penalty.
Mike Pereira, the league's director of officiating, said the adjustments to the rules are being made because too many players are suffering spinal and vertebrae injuries. Because the penalty questions aren't changes to the official rules of the game, they didn't require a vote of owners.
The changes are being met with mixed results by fans, many of whom believe that big hits are a part of the game and will be difficult to regulate because of the speed in which the game is played and the way defensive players are taught to attack the ball. It's admirable that the league is trying to protect its players, but as long as networks like ESPN run a weekly "Jacked Up!" segment in which they honor the bone-crunching hits of the week, it may not be as effective as hoped.