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The NFL has gone to extreme measures to limit head injuries

By Jacob Feldman
March 28, 2018

The newest NFL rule is short and sweet. "It is a (15-yard) foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent." Don't spend too long internalizing the language though—it's likely to change.

Originally, the competition committee planned a new point of emphasis in 2018 on helmet shots. The owners responded by asking for an actual rule adjustment. The result could be one of the most impactful changes since the NFL began dealing with its concussion crisis nearly a decade ago. "It's a substantial change for us," the head of the NFL's competition committee Rich McKay said after making the announcement. He explained that while previous rules had been geared towards specific instances, such as protecting defenseless receivers, "we need to get out of situational protection and protect all players at all times."

Most players reacted with confusion. Washington corner Josh Norman went so far as to say, "I don’t know how you’re going to play the game." Some of that confusion should be mitigated in the coming weeks, as the league makes its new rule clear, and alters the language ahead of the next owners meeting in May. What about diving tackles? What about QBs leaning in on sneaks? Questions around video replay and ejections for violations remain as well. It's far too early to debate those details now.

The important point today: This was a bold move by the owners. Rather than reacting to public demand for the rule, they responded to scary data illustrating the increase in helmet-to-helmet contact across the league, and the frequency of concussions that come as a result. Most likely, enforcement of the new policy will be uneven for at least a year. A game will probably swing on a questionable call. (What will this penalty even be called? Striking with the helmet?) That's OK. If the change prevents a player from leaving the field on a stretcher, it will be worth it.

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PRESS COVERAGE

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1. Your last Ndamukong Suh update (for now). He's a Ram. The free-agent defensive tackle reportedly agreed to a one-year, $14 million deal. With the Los Angeles defense adding Suh, Marcus Peters, and Aqib Talib, Bill Plaschke has dubbed it the "Legion of Goon."

2. The Seahawks cut backup QB Trevone Boykin shortly after his girlfriend said he choked her and broke her jaw. Boykin released a statement denying the accusations.

3. "I certainly had questions," Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said of his team's decision to move on from Ndamukong Suh, Jarvis Landry, and Mike Pouncey this offseason. "I’m going to have to wait and see like you guys are. But I believe in [the front office] and what they’re doing and the game plan they have."

4. Johnny Manziel was back at Texas A&M Tuesday for a pro day in front of all 32 teams. This time, he did not wear a helmet, and President George H.W. Bush was nowhere to be seen. "I know sometimes when I get involved it turns in to be a little bit about me,” Manziel said. “And it’s really not. That’s why I said what I said yesterday in a tweet . . . this is the rest of the guys' day that are out here trying to fulfill their dream of getting drafted and I’m just here being a part of it trying to give them some balls.”

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5. Tyler Dunne has a lengthy profile of Terrell Suggs, which becomes even more topical after Tuesday's rule change. "My mom doesn't want me to do it anymore, but I signed up for this. You know what I'm saying? Whatever comes with it, I'll take it,"​ Suggs says in the piece.

6. Vance Joseph will enter Year 2 in Denver with "perhaps the NFL's most interesting staff," including a coach dedicated to leading the offensive tackles.

7. I'm not sure why, but this headline made me giggle: "Andrew Luck is throwing small footballs."

8. Doug Farrar took a deep dive into Sam Darnold's games against Texas and Ohio State. It's a must-read for those hoping to learn why the USC QB is slated to be the No. 1 overall pick, but Browns fans can skip to the last line: "If the Browns deem him worthy of the first overall pick, Darnold might just prove to be the savior quarterback the franchise has been looking for since it re-entered the NFL in 1999."

9. New Cowboys wide receiver Allen Hurns is changing his jersey number to 17. "The Douglas shooting that was in Florida, 17 people lost their lives, so I chose that number," he said.​

10. Jim Owczarski figured out how exactly the Bengals ended up trading with the Bills for tackle Cordy Glenn.

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THE KICKER

Can you figure out which three coaches didn't show for this year's group photo? I'll shout out the first person to tweet the names to me with #coachesprom.

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