One of the most newsworthy events of each year’s NFL Annual Meeting is the gathering of the league’s Competition Committee, which evaluates and recommends rules changes for vote by the league’s owners. This year, one of the rule changes passed by the league involves contact to the head, or rather contact by the head.
The change makes it a penalty to lower one’s head to initiate contact, and the language of the rule explicitly states that any player on offense or defense can be flagged for this offense:
Playing Rule Article 8: It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. The player may be disqualified. Applies to any player anywhere on the field. The player may be disqualified.— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) March 27, 2018
However, like so many of the league’s other rules, this language is vague and open to wide interpretation by individual referees. That may become especially noticeable if certain officials begin calling these penalties against offensive players frequently while others focus more on defense.
It seems that the league put the cart before the horse in adopting this rule so hastily. In fact, they have even admitted as much, as the league plans to solicit feedback on the approved rule:
The NFL plans to bring coaches, players, et al. to New York in the next couple months as they keep working through enforcement of new rule, what’s ejectable, etc. Hope is to work through everything before May meeting.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 27, 2018
If this was the plan, why not simply gather that feedback first then wait until the meeting in May to approve the rule and approve it with more thorough, clear language?
Green Bay Packers fans may see this as a positive step, however, particularly after seeing wide receiver Davante Adams suffer two concussions as a direct result of the sort of hits that this rule will attempt to legislate. Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan and Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis both dropped their helmets as weapons and made helmet-to-helmet contact with Adams. Trevathan got a 15-yard penalty and a fine, while Davis was flagged and suspended for one game; however, neither one was ejected from the game, something that would almost certainly have happened had this rule been in place.