NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent and Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay recently took part in a conference call with the media ahead of the Annual Meeting in Boca Raton, which begins March 20.
To start, McKay discussed "high points" regarding the state of the game.
"I think the high points this year include average margin of victory, which was 11.06 points per game, which is the lowest since 1995," McKay said. "You saw that we broke records in a number of areas that includes yards from scrimmage (705), passing yards (487) and completion percentage (63 percent). Our points per game were the fifth-highest of all-time (45.6)."
McKay was also pleased to highlight the competitiveness of road teams in 2015.
"We look at margin of victory and we look at the fact that this year, I think the home teams only won 53 or 54 percent of their games," he said. "Often times, I think the perception is that the home team has such an advantage, but in our league because of the competitive balance, I think we've found ourselves in a good place where the home team is winning, but not winning by unreasonable margins."
McKay and Vincent then went over some rule proposals from the committee before taking questions, which you can read below.
McKay: Playing Rule Proposal Number 1 is a permanent extension of the rule that we proposed last year and was passed for one year, which is moving the extra point to the 15-yard line making it a 33-yard kick. We will submit that as a permanent rule proposal with no modification to last year's mechanics.
Playing Rule Proposal Number 2 is a rule proposal in the coach-to-player system, which would allow the direct communication from the press box into the player, either the quarterback or the one designated defensive player. It can go directly from the booth to that player. Before, our rule provided that if the plays were being called from the press box, it had to go to the sidelines first and then to the player so a lot of the teams were then taking their coordinators and putting them on the field so they can communicate directly. Now, we'll give them the option if this rule should pass to do it directly from the coach's booth or from the sideline, whichever they prefer.
Playing Rule Proposal Number 3 is basically the elimination of the chop block. The chop block has been a rule that we've modified so many times over the years. This time, we will propose the elimination of all forms of the chop block. The key note would be at the end of the rule if you're looking at it, which is on the second page of the rule proposals. It is not a foul if a blocker's opponent initiates contact so if the defender initiates contact above the waist or if the blocker is trying to flip or escape his opponent. We'll have plenty of tape to show you when we get to the meetings that will show what is a legal maneuver that will allow a low block and what is not. We think this is an important rule change for us.
Playing Rule Proposal Number 4 is the automatic disqualification rule. This is one we're proposing if there are two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls in one game – and we specifically list what those three areas are – if you get two of them in any of the categories, then you would be subject to automatic ejection. Category A is throwing a punch or forearm or kicking an opponent even if no contact is made. Category B is using abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures to an opponent, teammates, officials or representatives of the league. Category C is using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams. That's unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. That is not personal fouls. That is the way that rule proposal number 4 is proposed.
Playing Rule Proposal Number 5 is the rule that we would propose moving the touchback on a free kick – that would be a kickoff or after a safety kick – from the 20-yard line to the 25-yard line. We think that college has done this very successfully. It sends the right motivation on the ball that is going to come nine yards deep into the end zone, that maybe you take a knee on that play. The kickoff is a play that we continue to look at and we think this is a good change that motivates teams to make good decisions on when they are going to bring the ball out and when they are not. By putting it on the 25-yard line, we think that motivates them to make good decisions.
That's playing rule proposals 1-5. After that, playing rule proposals 6-15 are all club proposals and we pick up with playing rule proposal 16.
Troy Vincent: Playing Rule Proposal 16 involves the horse collar. What we did there is just expand the language that will now include the nameplate as an area that the players cannot actually grab now. It will be considered a foul to grab that nameplate area. This is a safety proposal as it pertains to the horse collar.
Playing Rule Proposal Number 17 is delay of game and team timeouts. There are some competitive implications here not awarding a team a timeout when they do not have it. This is something that officiating felt like we needed to do for competitive reasons.
Playing Rule Proposal Number 18 and 19, which both have competitive fairness implications that Dean Blandino and the officials felt like for competitive reasons, we need to implement these two playing rules.
Let me point out just a few of our bylaw proposals. Starting with Bylaw Proposal Number 8, which is contact with draft-eligible players. The effect here is it permits non-FBS conferences to hold pro days at all schools in its conference. The reason is that it provides opportunity for more exposure for players to attend from smaller colleges.
Bylaw Proposal Number 9 is the roster limitations. Here it just requires clubs to terminate or request waivers for players who are placed on reserve or have minor injuries. The reason is it prevents the abuse of the reserve list categories.
Bylaw Proposal Number 10, which we believe is significant as we advance technology on the field. This is the league approved coaches video application on league-issued tablets. The reason here is that it permits coaches to review video displayed on club-issued tablets on the sidelines and in the coaches' booth. It will allow more efficiency to evaluate opponent's formations and schemes during the games. We've been working with our partner Microsoft over the last three or four years. We've been slowly introducing this technology with the still-shots on tablets and now, we're moving to on-field video.
A few other things to bring to your attention. Rich mentioned our meetings in New York and Indianapolis. I want to call out a couple of other things that we've spent an ample amount of time on as we review video. Sportsmanship – we've talked extensively about the 2016 campaign and the points of emphasis this year: crown of the helmet; low hits on the passer; the quarterback slide; rushing tactics as it pertains to field goals and the point after attempt; coaches on the field; and pre-snap movement. Those are some things that we look at and will be called out on our points of emphasis tape. We talked about the officiating positions. We've talked extensively about the eighth official and others.
Q: Kansas City's got a got a couple of these rules that they put forward here. I'm not real familiar with this entire process, did they give you a reason why they want to do some of these things or do they just submit them? I'm looking for a little clarification on 10 and 11, like what the benefits and losses would be as well.
McKay: I would tell you the process is they get a memo from the league that says, "If you have any rule proposals you want to put forth as a team, here's the date you have to do it by." Then they work with the league office to make sure that when they put the proposals forward that language-wise they work and so I think Kansas City has gotten two that I kind of remember. One was about the penalty enforcement which is the half the distance to the goal penalty. They're probably better at explaining it than we are and I think they must have had a couple of instances this year that obviously they didn't feel like was competitively fair but it involved trying to march off yardage and then moving the sticks so that the full enforcement of the penalty occurs. And then their other proposal really goes to – playing rule proposal number eleven – probably goes to the play that we saw which is the play when Peyton Manning, I think, fell to the ground and then still threw the ball and this was a proposal that says if a quarterback or passer's body hits the ground that he's not able to be a legal passer at that point in time. He can still run, get up and run, but he can't throw the football. So those are their two proposals.
Q: Rich, we talked last summer, but I wonder if there's going to be any kind of discussion about receiver's gloves and any type of regulation of those down the road maybe and Troy, maybe you can comment on this too?
Vincent: Yes, we have been as we look at the protective equipment and the gloves are in that category. There are no standards right now. We have been working with our partners – Under Armour, Nike – to see how we could adjust and have some minimum standards. The challenge, as you are well aware of, is the tackiness and the gloves now are so tacky that it's taking away from the true skill level. So we have been working with our manufactures and partners, Virginia Tech, in trying to create a standard in all protective equipment and in particular the gloves. So that frankly is a work in progress because there is no standards in the industry and it appears that we have to create one.
Q: Troy, how would that procedure go? What would be the timeframe in creating a standard and implementing that?
Vincent: Again, it's been ongoing the last year and a half. It's been brought up with our subcommittee – coaches subcommittee – coach Madden has brought it up the last two years and then working with Virginia Tech and some of the companies, the manufacturers. Our reasons for it and obviously the commercial side are much different, we now have taken it upon ourselves as a league as we look into protective equipment and try to create a standard. We're not into that business, but we're now involved. Again, working with Virginia Tech and trying to come up with a mode. So hoping to have some better answers and better solutions. It won't be this particular season, but as we look at the 2017 campaign, we hope to have better answers and better standards as it pertains to gloves.
Q: Since every team finishes the year with five, 10, 15 guys on injured reserve, has there been any thought to expanding rosters to 56, 57 players to allow more players to return and give players more time to acclimate if they're picked up off the street?
McKay:Yes, that's a topic we talk about almost every year. It is one that definitely gets some interest from a lot of clubs, but I think right now we're pretty satisfied with where the system is because remember, you have the flexibility between 46 – that's the number you can dress on game day – and 53. That's seven players that can be injured, if you will, to some degree and you're not at a competitive disadvantage. So we realize we gave the one free activation from what we call Designated to Return, which is one of those free activations you had talked about. We did that a number of years ago, we think that's been pretty successful. This year there's a club that has a proposal to change that rule in a way that would allow you to have that player back even if you didn't designate him at the beginning of the period. We think there's some merit to that rule change. So we're looking at it all the time, but I wouldn't say that we're going to take a position this year though that it should change.
Q: The new football testing and custody procedures that the NFL implemented last year, do you foresee the league doing them again this year and any modifications to the system?
Vincent:Yes, we'll continue that. That's an ongoing process, there is no need to change our pregame protocol that pertains to game balls and k-balls. We had no violation of that process and we'll continue to do so in the manner that was set forth.
Q: When you say 'no violation' does that mean no ball was found under 12.5 or how was that taken into account?
Vincent: No, we've always just look at - we focused on procedure. Balls being brought to the stadium, and there was no violation of game balls being checked in at the appropriate time, there was no violation of game balls being in the officials' locker room being brought to the field, back to the locker rooms during half time and then the balls being brought back to the officials locker room postgame. So it's the procedures of the balls themselves.
Q: Wondering if you could give me a little bit of a history lesson on the evolution of the chop block and I know, Rich, when you talk about it as you introduced the proposals there's been so many modifications. Can you give us a couple of those and kind of walk us through why it was tweaked in stages? What was taken out of the rule, what was modified along the way? Because one of the things I wonder about is why the chop block just wasn't eliminated at all in the first place however many years ago you first started addressing the rule.
McKay:I would tell you that I've been on the committee probably since '95 and I think that we've talked about this rule almost every year and in some ways we tweaked it so there's a lot of changes. A lot of them started to occur in the chop block on the back side, ok. So in other words, we have a front side, we're going to run right, that's the front side, the right side. Front side, back side, left side. There's a lot of rules. You used to be able to chop for nonadjacent players meaning that the tackle and the center could engage and then the tackle could come over and block low and we eliminated that a number of years ago because we said, you know, the nose tackle in that instance probably couldn't anticipate that block coming. The same was true of the tight end and the guard. So we had this non-adjacency that we got rid of. Then we got rid of backs that were able to block on the edge. So a tight end could be engaged and then a back came up and blocked, we eliminated that. There have been numerous changes to this rule such that we found this rule to be really confusing and the officials in their comments on rule enforcement when asked what rule gives you the most pause in enforcing, this always ends up at the top and this year it really ended up at the top and so we have over the years chipped away. Joel Bussert would probably be the best to give you year-by-year and we can probably give you that if you want it, but I think college eliminated the chop block in 2008 and since 2008, it's 2015, their rushing yards are up 15 percent a year. So you'll hear people say that's because they run a spread and they run different offenses and the like, but the chop had become an integral part of some of the schemes in college football and I don't think the coaches were happy with it and the injury risk, so they eliminated it in '08. We don't get, so you know on this rule, we don't get a lot of injuries per year, but we think the position that the players are in just doesn't appear to be fair, that he's subject to that low block when he's fully engaged with an offensive player. So we think it's time to change the rule.
Q: So when you mention the college rushing numbers, that would seem to indicate you're not totally concerned that the running game in the NFL wouldn't exist, as we know it, without having the chop block. Is that your answer to that question?
McKay: I think you're going to hear those quotes – they come whenever a change is proposed – whether they're from ex-players or coaches, whoever they may be. We understand them. We think we have the best coaches in the world that tend to adjust very quickly to rules and tend to find ways to get things accomplished. So we don't see this as something that is going to drastically affect the rushing game. I think college – when we talk to Roger Reading, who runs officiating for the NCAA – they had all the same concerns. Many coaches worried this was really going to impact the rushing game in college and they did not see that effect at all.
Q: I'm wondering if you guys looked at the point of emphasis as far as the crown [of the helmet] hit, and I'm thinking of the [Ryan] Shazier hit on [Giovani] Bernard in the playoffs.
McKay: We did look at the play. We have looked at the rule and I think there will be some discussion of it in the report. It's not a rule proposal.
Q: It would be some kind of point of emphasis then, probably?
McKay: One thing we don't necessarily do on this call is talk about all of our points of emphasis and all of our positions because we'd like to make sure the membership sees them first. But you can be assured that we did discuss it and it will show up in the report.
Q: I was wondering if the player ejection [proposal] also covers coaches? And I don't know if Troy can talk on this, but there was a story about the fine between Munchak and Reggie Nelson and I was wondering if any of that was true and if there was a reason for that being rescinded.
Vincent: Well I'm not going to get into the details of the appeals, but the coaches are held to that standards as well. The officials – it is an unsportsmanlike penalty. We had 75 compared to the average of 50 in the previous five-year period. So without getting into the details of Coach Munchak, we've heard his argument but that will extend to the coaches as well. The officials – referee – always has that ability to disqualify not just a player, that would also extend to the coach as well if he deemed appropriate.
Q: On this coach-to-player proposal, I'm curious on a couple things. What prompted that conversation between you guys? And then, obviously this was not something that was permitted before, what are the pros and cons as you see it to potentially making that change?
McKay: I think the change is prompted by the fact that we're going to have new equipment in the coach-to-player realm this year both on offense and defense, a completely new system. So this was a time that we could make this change. When we initially did this rule way back when, we did coach-to-quarterback and then subsequently we did coach-to-defense. Our concern at that time was the chance there is going to be a lot of coaching going on from the press box and if that is a good thing for the game. So we said why don't we make the play come in directly from the sideline because, in reality, what that system was initially designed for was to get rid of the hand signals and all that other stuff that was taking place on the sidelines as you see in college football today with signs and everything else. We were trying to get rid of that and we weren't trying to necessarily have coaching occur to the player but to get the play in. So that's what our reasoning was; I think we've gone past that now. We realize that there just isn't a lot of coaching that can go on, we still have a cutoff switch at 15 seconds where the coach can no longer communicate and there's a lot to be done by the quarterback or the defenses. We're comfortable that this is a more efficient way to do it. If coaches decide they want their coordinators in the box we think we should let them do it.
Q: In regards to concussion, was there any talk to tweak or modify the new eye in the sky rule from last year after the Case Keenum incident and a couple of others? Was there any discussion into implementing a mandatory minimum recovery period whether it be two days, three days, five days before a player can resume practice as well as play in a game?
Vincent:I'll begin with the Case Keenum and that particular case which was widely talked about. There was a system failure across the board, everyone had some form of accountability. We do believe that the things that have been implemented from our ATC spotters to our UNCs, we feel very confident in our physicians and our staffs. This is on our players as well. We didn't see any reason to modify that but to make sure that we are executing on those things and protocols that have been put in place. The Case Keenum situation was unfortunate. But we all bear some accountability on that system failure that we cannot allow to happen.
Obviously we analyze it but when the proper procedures in the concussion protocols are in effect, there is mandatory time. Baseline testing occurs before the season, during, and if a player has a head injury or a concussion or has been diagnosed, the proper time is put in place for him to be obviously seen by the medical physicians prior to his return to play.
Q: On the two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, how many times during the 2015 season or the 2016 postseason did a player get flagged for two such calls during one game?
Q: Were the Odell Beckham-Josh Norman incidents one of those times?
McKay:I don't know what those fouls were specifically. We just ask for the fouls themselves. The other thing we've done is in the sportsmanship section that Troy has talked about, we will certainly emphasize the fact that in flagrant foul situations, the referee is empowered to have an immediate ejection for one foul. He doesn't need to wait for that second foul and we will definitely make that a point to the officials that if they see that and they see that act and they believe it to be flagrant, they are empowered to eject that player from the game.
Q: And the week before the Super Bowl, I believe Commissioner Goodell referenced just two personal fouls resulting in an ejection. Was there any consideration to making all personal fouls subject to ejection? Like two facemasks or two roughing the passers or has it always been unsportsmanlike conduct specifically?
McKay: We definitely talked about both, and we feel like we have disciplinary ways to deal with the personal foul side. Obviously, we have a system of fining, we have the ability to suspend, we have many ways to deal with the personal foul side. We just felt like, in this case, the unsportsmanlike side where you saw the spike Troy talked about, to see 75 unsportsmanlike conducts from an average of 50. To us, on the sportsmanship side, that's what led us to this rule. We did talk about the personal foul side. There is that concern that's raised on the degree of fouls, if you will. We don't really make a difference anymore between a five and a 15-yard facemask. So do you want, what we would have considered two five-yard facemasks in the past where people just grazed the facemask but we call it a foul, and we should, would we want that to be an ejection? And I think our answer to that was no.
Q: Rich and Troy, can you kind of go through your deliberations on the catch rule and why the decision was made there not to make any changes on that?
Vincent: I'll begin with – you've probably read and are well aware of – we've spent an exorbitant amount of time during the offseason, we've had two committees made up of some of our former players. We've had some of our current players involved coming in. We must have watched over 100 different clips, going back from the Bert Emmanuel days, to the infamous Dez Bryant play. At the end of the day, you know, what replay has done is-high definition television, when we sat down with both the former players, current players, as well as some of our league officials, and the officials that are on the field-it's a three step process: possession, two feet down, and that time element. And without a commentator doing their own abbreviation of the rule, the rule states: possession, two feet down, time of possession, and the safety element, which is extremely important, too. It's the number one priority. The rule allows us to protect the catcher, so there was no, again, after watching a ton of video, bringing different voices in, both current and former, it was unanimous that the three step process, and the way the language reads today, is appropriate.
McKay: And I would add a couple things. Number one, we went to Indianapolis-we brought four current officials to Indy with us, and it's incredible how clear they are with respect to the rule and how the rule is to be administered, and how supportive they are of the current rule giving them that judgement of the element of time. There's been this talk about could we create a more objective standard, really, because of replay. And I think that they feel as on field officials that would definitely hinder them as they use this objective standard of time, and in Troy's case, they like the fact that it's now tied into the same element as the safety element. So there was a lot of input with respect to this. We've got to remember that there's over 18,000 passing plays a year. That's how many passing plays we get a year. That's 5,000 more than we had in 1990. And we end up every year, we do end up with-let's say it's a group of four plays, maybe it's as many as six out of all of those in which we look at it frame by frame and say, "Maybe he got that wrong." But in reality, that official, that on-field official is officiating an awful lot of passes every game and getting them right. And so I think they influenced us also.
Vincent:And Mark,*also, what we found is as you go through the video, and having our officials in place and talking us through what they see, the players, in many cases, thought there should be three *elements of a catch: the sideline, the middle of the field, and the end zone. So imagine an official having three applications of what a catch should be, not including the safety element of when is the runner protected. So we started one place, then after a conversation, we came to the place where this is-we're at a good place. We just have to keep applying the current rule and keep educating our partners, and the public, and our fans.
McKay: And I think we want to, Mark, when we get to Boca Raton, I think we've got some video, Dean's got some video he's going to show, and I think he also wants to show to the media and talk all the way through it, because I think one thing we probably haven't done as good a job as we should have is making sure everybody understands how the rule is applied.
Q: So (Washington) just wants to expand it to three challenges per game?
McKay: That's correct, that's exactly correct.
Q: Looking at the gamebook from the Beckham-Norman game last year. All their calls were unnecessary roughness. It doesn't look like unnecessary roughness is accounted for in this proposal. Rich, is that what you were referring to when giving refs a little more say-officials a little more say in determining and ejecting guys for a flagrant?
McKay: Yes, and that's in our sportsmanship-we've got a sportsmanship section at the start of the report, and we reference that section very distinctly, if you will, because we do believe that officials should be empowered and should not feel that ejection is not an appropriate remedy when it is in the book, and we think it is appropriate when there's a flagrant foul.
Q: Is there something right now that addresses, obviously you have the helmet-to-helmet, but what about after the whistle when a player launches himself with a helmet-to-helmet type action?
McKay: Well, I think then, if the whistle is blown and it's a dead ball, then you're going to end up with an unsportsmanlike conduct foul. And it's going to be under that sub-paragraph that I read to you, which I believe is sub-paragraph "A", and that's where you would probably capture that foul. Again, the official, if in his judgement sees it as flagrant, is empowered at that point to eject.
Q: Last thing, guys. The Panthers' proposal on expanding the intentional grounding rule. The wording seems a little vague. Do you know kind of what specifically they're looking to expand upon?
McKay:I don't, and I think we'll wait and see at the meeting when Coach Rivera presents it. I'm sure there's some video that he may want us to look at. We visited with Coach Rivera in Indianapolis, because he's on the coaches' sub-committee and he came to the meeting, he talked about the proposal. I didn't see any-he didn't show us any video, but he submitted the proposal. I think we'll have to wait until we get to Boca to understand it.