Roger Goodell's proclamation that he wants to add a 17th or 18th game to the schedule grabbed all the headlines this week and overshadowed a number of fairly significant rule changes going into effect this season. All of the changes have been instituted in the name of player safety, which is good, but the implementation of two will be very difficult.
That's because there is a big difference between implementing a rule that changes a strategy devised by coaches and one that places restrictions on what an individual player has been conditioned to do since he began playing the game as a youngster. In other words, the changes related to onside kick alignments and wedge formations are easy to make because they just won't be used anymore by special teams' coaches. The "Hines Ward" rule concerning blindside hits to the head and the "Tom Brady" rule that prohibits going after quarterbacks when a defender is on his knees are different. Even though those two new rules will be hammered at by coaches, such plays are still bound to happen.
The elimination of the three- and four-man wedge on kickoff returns was long overdue. That scheme effectively ended my career and that of many others. In the first couple of weeks of the 2007 season alone, the Texans' Cedric Killings, the Packers' Tony Palmer and the Giants' Adrian Awasom all fractured vertebrae in their neck as a result of wedge collisions. It is that violent, that dangerous of a play. At its best, it's a concussion waiting to happen.
Most casual fans don't know much about the wedge because their eyes are following the ball as the returner makes his way up the field. What they don't see is a three- or four-man mass of humanity running in unison for up to 30 yards, with the sole purpose being to not get split or allow any seepage from a member of the opposition's kicking unit. Meanwhile, the linebacker-types on the kickoff team gather up 50 yards of steam before attempting to burst through or bust up the wedge. It's akin to a tank running into a couple of humvees, and it's seldom pretty, so this change is absolutely for the better.
The Ward and Brady rules represent a type of re-engineering that won't easily happen overnight. Blindside blocks, like the one delivered by Ward on Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers last season, happen in an instant and there is no thought process involved. There is no time. It just happens. Likewise, Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard's hit on Brady was pure hustle on Pollard's part and in no way an attempt to injure him. The league is smart to try to protect quarterbacks, but asking guys like Pollard to alter the way they have been trained to play for years is a change that won't happen overnight.
Mail time ...
"More work for the same money?" Ross, you have got to be kidding me! I love your columns and you're fast becoming one of my favorite football writers, but come on. Did you forget that these guys are making millions of dollars to play a game? I agree with you that OT is fine the way it is because I don't think any of the other systems proposed are any better. But the idea that OT shouldn't be extended because the players won't get paid any more for it is just crazy talk!--Jason Pike, Halifax, Nova Scotia
I got a boatload of e-mails like this one. It is actually pretty easy to get a rise out of the readers, and I must say I enjoy that to some extent, but I can tell you that was not my intention.
Everyone seems to forget I was a huge fan of the NFL way before I realized, much to my surprise, that I had been blessed with the natural physical gifts to potentially play in the league. I understand where you are coming from Jason and I would have expressed the same sentiment if I were looking at things from your perspective.
But I'm not. I made a living playing professional football. I stand by my claim that most players do not have a whole lot of interest in adjusting the rules in a manner that adds more plays and, as a result, more physical harm. They just don't. Much like adding more games, everything is always negotiable, but greater risk should entail greater compensation, no matter the profession or pay scale.
Could it be possible that everyone makes such a big deal out of a bad 40 time or bench press in order to try and change the market for a player negatively? If you have a lower pick and a guy you like has a bad workout, there is a much better chance of you getting him if everyone makes a big deal out of the bad workout, right? Everyone sees the same film but if they're hearing a player is being moved down by everyone else, aren't they going to look at moving him down on their own board?--Keith Lokkins, Pullman, WA
Misinformation is a huge part of life in the NFL in the weeks leading up to the draft for the exact reasons you mentioned, Keith. You have to take any report and any source with a grain of salt at this point because they all have their reasons for disseminating certain information. It is one reason mock drafts are so difficult to do and take at face value.
It really works both ways as some teams will spread the word that they are really high on a player in order to get other people to think they want to select him, even if deep down they secretly are not interested at all. It will happen more and more as we get closer to the draft.
Ross, Every article I read from every ex-player, sportswriter, ex-GM, etc., says the combine times, weights lifted, so forth and so on don't really matter. If that's the case, why do they even have a combine?--Ryan Philipps, St. Louis
Any information carries some value, Ryan, and the combine's primary purpose these days is to allow the teams to perform all of their medical due-diligence at the same place as opposed to having players fly all over the country for MRI's, X-rays, and doctor visits. It also lets the teams get to know the players a little bit personally while standardizing the physical testing results across the board.
I can't disagree with your analysis of the Jay Cutler/Josh McDaniels situation, but please stop mentioning Cutler in the same sentence with Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. The first time I read that same line of reasoning coming from Bus Cook, I almost choked. What has Cutler done to merit comparison to guys like Tom Brady, Manning and Brees? Last I checked, those guys actually got their teams to the playoffs once in a while.--Sebastian Smith, Syracuse
That's a fair point, Sebastian. Still, many regard Cutler as the most talented young quarterback in the league, and the idea that a team would just call Denver out of the blue and ask if he was available seems a little far-fetched. Especially since more than 10 teams have supposedly called the Broncos now that there is a decent chance Cutler might get traded. If they thought there were any chance before this drama unfolded, they would have called earlier.
I agree with you. I played in the NFL for a couple of years and I was very disappointed with the players and the NFLPA. To this day I do not understand the function of the Players Association. Is it there to represent the players, the stars or the league?--Steve Williams, Ellicott City, MD
I can tell you that a lot of players have the same questions and concerns, Steve, and one of DeMaurice Smith's first tasks should be to convince the blue-collar players that he is working hard for them and not just the league's elite. That was one of the most frequently heard complaints regarding the previous administration.