By Ryan Jones
Last Tuesday, the NFL and its owners instated new rules defining exactly what is and what is not a catch, something that satisfied football fans, still distraught over questionable calls over the past few years like Dez Bryant’s in 2014 and Jesse James’ this past season. Along with this new catch rule, the NFL also slipped in a rule regarding helmet-to-helmet contact, another issue the league has been heavily scrutinized for in recent years.
Under this new rule, any player who lowers his head and uses his helmet to make or initiate contact with a player on the opposing team will be flagged 15 yards with a possibility of ejection at the officials’ discretion. In reality, this rule could apply to anyone on the field who initiates contact with another player.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that the NFL would introduce a rule of this sorts. Last season, the NFL had a record-high 291 reported concussions. That number does not include minor concussions that may not be immediately reported by players, though this type of head injury over time can be just as dangerous if left untreated.
Along with the jaw-dropping amount of concussions last season, fans also witnessed a gruesome and downright scary play when Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier was temporarily paralyzed after making contact with an opposing player. Shazier made this hit with his helmet lowered, and he required spinal surgery to save his movement. For understandable reasons, the NFL wants to prevent these type of injuries and passed this rule in hopes that it would do just that. Unfortunately, this rule could also entirely change the sport of football that millions of fans know and love and could ultimately spell disaster for the NFL.
Without being able to lower their heads, it would become nearly impossible for offensive linemen to secure a block, running backs would lose an essential part of their goal line strategy, quarterback sneaks would be a thing of the past and defensive players would find it incredibly hard to initiate tackles. Though this change may not seem important, this could just be the start of the NFL trying to make the game safer, and in turn, completely change it.
Players around the league have already voiced disdain for the new rule, cornerback Richard Sherman told USA Today he thought the rule was “ridiculous” and compared it to “telling a driver if you touch the lane lines, you’re getting a ticket.” Not only was Sherman critical of the rule, he also believes it will simply “lead to more lower-extremity injuries.”
For both players and fans alike, the hope remains that this rule will do as the NFL intended and protect players from injury while maintaining the feeling of football. The exact wording of the rule will be voted upon during the next owner’s meetings in May.