Player protection an emphasis of changes

The league is looking to protect its star players and those players who are in a "defenseless" position with the rules changes that will be enacted for 2009. One such change reminds of a controversial play by Jared Allen.

Hurt a star, pay the price.

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.


  • The discussion of increasing the length of the regular season from 16 to 17 or possibly 18 games shouldn't be embraced too quickly by fans. Not only can't the rules be installed until 2011 at the earliest, there are two significant hurdles that will need to be cleared. First and foremost is that any increase in the number of regular-season games would have to be part of the collective bargaining agreement with the players association. The current CBA is slated to end in 2011 with an uncapped season in 2010. Secondly, it will be a hard sell to increase the number of games by one because it would give half the teams in the league nine home games and half of them eight. With the competitive balance that exists in the NFL, that small advantage could alter who makes the playoffs and who doesn't.

  • Wide receiver Kenny Britt of Rutgers, a player whose stock has risen to the point that he has been linked to the Vikings in some mock drafts, has a private workout scheduled with the Bears. The Bears currently have the 18th pick in the draft and have a definite need at wide receiver.

  • Offensive tackle Mark Tauscher, who was rumored to be on the Vikings' radar when free agency opened, continues to rehab from knee surgery and remains unsigned. The word out of Green Bay was that the team would wait to make an attempt to re-sign him, but with his rehab expected to drag into the summer, the current belief is that the Packers will go in a different direction, possibly taking a tackle in next month's draft.

  • One of the interesting parts of the contract extension between the league and NFL Sunday Ticket with DirecTV is that, even if there is a work stoppage/lockout in 2011, the league will apparently still be paid its money under the terms of the contract. The extension with the satellite TV company runs through the 2012 season.

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