The NFL passed two major rules changes Wednesday during the NFL Annual Meetings in Phoenix that will take effect this upcoming season.
The first rule would penalize a player who makes or initiates contact with the crown of his helmet outside of the tackle box, addressing health concerns regarding possible neck damage from such contact. The measure passed by an owners vote of 31-1, but has been criticized by many running backs, including Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte and Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Marshall Faulk.
"There was a lot of discussion," Steelers President Art Rooney said of the helmet crown rule, "but the way it was presented was the most effective way to address it."
Another rule change is abolishing the infamous tuck rule. Now, if a quarterback loses control of the ball before he has fully protected it after opting not to throw, it is a fumble.
The elimination of the tuck rule passed on a 29-1 vote, with the New England Patriots and Washington Redskins abstaining, and the Pittsburgh Steelers voting to keep it. "We didn't think it was necessary to make that change," Rooney said. "We were happy with the way it's been called."
The tuck rule became famous in the 2002 AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and the Patriots. Late in the fourth quarter with New England trailing by three, Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson hit Patriots quarterback Tom Brady when Brady ceased his throwing motion and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Raiders. The call was reversed on replay under the tuck rule, and the Patriots went on to win the game 16-13 in overtime.
Goodell was eager to get approved the competition committee's proposal to outlaw use of the crown of the helmet by ball carriers, and there was talk the vote would be tabled until May if the rule change didn't have enough support.
But after watching videos of the play that clearly showed the differences in legal and illegal moves by ball carriers, the owners voted yes. The penalty will be 15 yards from the spot of the foul, and if both the offensive and defensive player lowers his head and uses the crown of the helmet to make contact, each will be penalized.
"It'll certainly make our runners aware of what we expect relative to use of the helmet," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "One of the questions I ask a lot is who gains from this, offense or defense? And it's a toss-up as to which side of the ball has the advantage on this rule, if any. The main thing is it's pro-health and safety, and that's the big thing."
The owners discussed simply using fines on ball carriers to eliminate the tactic, but instead voted to make the rule change.
"Jim Brown never lowered his head," Rooney said with a smile. "It can be done." Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.