On Thursday, the NFL formally held final votes for rules changes for the upcoming 2020 season. The most widely-discussed rule, an alternative to the onside kick, was discussed but eventually voted down for the coming year. However, the progress since this time a year ago suggests that it could become an option in future seasons.
Meanwhile, the league approved one notable by-law that was barely mentioned prior to the votes, but that should affect teams positively. Three additional minor tweaks to playing rules were adjusted as well, though these should have only minor impacts. Here is the full rundown of the notable items approved (or not) this week.
Injured reserve change
The one by-law that the NFL approved this week was the expansion of the number of players who can return from injured reserve during a season. This number has increased from two to three for 2020. However, it appears that this is still only applicable to players placed on IR after being on the active 53-man roster following final cuts.
Last year, the Packers used both of their return from IR designations. Tight end Jace Sternberger returned to the 53 before week 9 and played in six of the final eight regular season games, while safety Raven Greene returned to the 53 in time for the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco, but was a gameday inactive.
4th and 15 proposal denied
However, the NFL did not approve the proposal to add an alternative to the onside kick for a scoring team to retain possession of the football. The proposed rule would have allowed the scoring team to attempt a 4th-and-15 play from their own 25-yard line in lieu of an onside kick, and to do so up to twice per game. However, the rule did not achieve the 75% approval margin required to go into effect, instead coming in with even 50/50 split.
As NFL Network’s Albert Breer notes, that is progress from the rule’s relative lack of support in 2019, and it seems that momentum is building toward it eventually being implemented.
Other playing rules changes
Finally, the league approved three minor tweaks to rules that affect the play on the field. First, the league made permanent automatic video replay reviews for any scoring play or turnover negated by a penalty or any point-after or two-point conversion attempt. This was instituted for 2019 on an interim basis, but is now a permanent part of the rulebook.
The second change expands defenseless player protections to a new class of player: kick or punt returners who have not had an opportunity to avoid contact after catching the ball. Under this rule, hits on these players would be subject to a 15-yard personal foul penalty.
Finally, the league closed the loophole allowing teams to keep the game clock running by committing consecutive dead-ball penalties such as false starts. Patriots coach Bill Belichick famously exploited this rule during a blowout win in the 2019 regular season before a former disciple, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, did so against Belichick in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.