NFL kicks off Thursday

Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell scores a touchdown on an 11-yard pass from Tom Brady past Seahawks safety Earl Thomas during the second quarter as the Seattle Seahawks take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday, February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Ariz. 

The professional football world converged in Orlando this week for the 2018 NFL Annual Meeting. There, owners gathered to vote on a plethora of proposed rule changes, highlighted by a simplified definition of a catch and the ever-looming issue of player safety.

What is a catch?

After dominating much of the on-field discourse over the past decade – reaching a fever pitch in 2017 - the NFL stripped down its convoluted interpretation of a catch.

The NFL Competition Committee – made up of current coaches and front office members – recommended the standard for a catch meet three criteria:

  1. Control
  2. Two feet down or another body part (such as a knee)
  3. A football move such as:
    1. A third step
    2. Reaching/Extending for the line-to-gain
    3. Or the ability to perform such an act

The owners voted in favor of the change on Tuesday, with a resounding 32-0 tally.

As evidenced by Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth musing ad nauseam on what might or might not constitute possession in the Super Bowl this past February, a rule change was in order. Just as the rule needed simplification, it was a simplified process used for determining the updated criteria.

Troy Vincent, former Pro-Bowl defensive back and current NFL Executive VP, explained on The Rich Eisen Show that the foundation of the rule was built on the controversial incompletions of Steelers tight end Jesse James and Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.

“When we asked the fan, the player, the coach, the Jesse James, ‘Do you want that to be a catch?’ The Dez Bryant, ‘Do you want that to be a catch?’” Vincent said on the show. “Then we just began mapping the language that would constitute what does that mean [sic].”

In addition to a unanimous owner vote, the early response to the change from fans and pundits alike has been largely positive.

“I don’t understand why it took so long for them to actually change it,” second-year sports administration student Jason Greenberg said. “I like how they’re changing this because I believe the Dez (Bryant) catch was a catch, the (Zach) Ertz catch was a catch […] it needs to be consistent.”

Player safety

The catch rule dominated the proceedings early Tuesday, but late Tuesday and Wednesday were set aside for fundamental rule changes in favor of player safety.

In front of a national audience, during one of the NFL’s stingiest rivalry games, and on the league’s flagship broadcast, Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier laid motionless after a hit with the crown of his helmet caused a spinal injury.

If the play happened today, Shazier would be penalized.

The NFL approved a new rule outlawing this type of hit, noting that “lowering the head to initiate contact with the helmet is a foul.” The league also clarified that this rule would be applicable to offensive players as well, such as a running back bursting through a hole or a pulling lineman.

“In this, we’re basically getting to a technique that is just too dangerous for both the player doing it and the player that is getting hit,” NFL Competition Committee Chairman Rich Mckay said during a press conference with NFL executives. “I think what was apparent to the committee this year when we watched a lot of tape and met with the doctors is that we needed a change.”

In such an occurrence, a player will receive a 15-yard penalty. Depending on the severity, the punishment can also result in disqualification.

The move was made in an effort to improve player safety, an ongoing threat to a league that is seeing more and more that injuries are affecting player well-being and driving negative public perception.

Unlike the warm reception to the catch rule, the implementation of this new helmet rule has drawn reactions ranging from skeptical to exasperated amongst NFL media members.

“Every March, the NFL gathers 'round and finds new, vague, always-asinine ways to sell a violent game as ‘safe,’” tweeted Tyler Dunn, NFL features writer at Bleacher Report. “Makes for good PR but a magical middle ground does not exist. Also, hey, it wouldn't hurt to chat with a player or two before changing the game.”

Additionally, much to the chagrin of individuals critical of play stoppage, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell indicated that the new rule would be subject to replay reviews.