There was a time not too long ago when the NFL was scared. They were scared about losing viewers because the game was too boring. They were afraid of baseball and basketball. They were unsure of their place in the world. They implemented rule changes that would nuke scoring and create more highlights. While they made subtle tweaks in the modern era to fuel offenses and enter a more mutually beneficial relationship with the burgeoning fantasy football industry, they were no longer worried about getting caught from behind.
The NFL has pivoted from being uncertain to so certain, to the point where they have now established a nostalgic view of what the game looks like (even though, without the desperation and fear, it would look nothing like it does today). So, it goes. With nearly every owners meeting that comes and goes, a pile of intriguing rule changes sit at their disposal to consider and the majority are left by the side of the road. Some are killed because of politics. Some are killed because they’re deemed too radical. But underneath it all lies the very real possibility that the haughtier they become at the notion of destroying baseball and leaving it in their rearview mirror, the more likely they are to recreate baseball’s stuffiness and suffer a similar, eventual demise.
As always, we’re here to help. Here are five rule changes the league should seriously consider the next time they congregate, with the future of the game in mind.
1. The Fourth-and-15 rule
We gave the NFL credit for bringing this pipe dream along as far as they did, and rightfully slapped them in the back of the head when they fumbled at the 1-yard line. The anonymous NFL figures who leaked that this proposal, which would grant teams the option of attempting a fourth-and-15 conversion from their own 25-yard line instead of kicking a useless (and borderline impossible) onside kick, would be “tabled for discussion” down the line are like the parents who tell their kids “maybe ask Santa for the toy for Christmas” and then totally forget about it. The fourth-and-15 rule was ultimately dropped because special teams coaches were afraid of irrelevance and about 20 NFL owners were scared that they didn’t have Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz or Lamar Jackson. So, as fans, we are robbed of the chance to see a 14-point game with five minutes remaining become anything less than a void for Joe Buck to fill with promos for FILTHY RICH STARRING KIM CATTRALL.
2. Timeouts should carry over
It always seems odd to me the way that coaches pile away timeouts for the end of the first half, like squirrels storing away momentum for the long, cold winter. Timeouts should not be half dependent because, inevitably, a team is more likely to need its timeouts at the end of a game. Bad coaches blow timeouts for all types of erroneous reasons: formation confusion, the inability to relay a play, being surprised by a personnel grouping the opponent throws out, etc. They should be punished for such lapses in preparation. So often at the end of a game, if a team ahead by a score can simply outlast the finite number of timeouts its opponent has, it is able to win the game. But, if an opponent has responsibly managed itself to that point at the end of the fourth quarter, it should be rewarded with more of an opportunity to stop the clock and get the ball back for another possession.
3. Modified XFL extra point rule
I do think that pushing back the extra point has added a bit of flare to a once meaningless play. I also think that, should teams feel content with ignoring the analytics and continuing to insist on kicking the one-point extra point, they should be able to do so. The league should do more, however, to set in place a risk/reward system for a team willing to either A) Take a big chance at the beginning of the game, or B) Execute a miraculous play at the end of a game when down by more than one traditional score. That’s why I would advocate for adopting portions of the XFL’s extra point rule, which eliminated the kick altogether and implemented a series of one-, two- and three-point tries at various yardages. I think teams should still have the kicking option, but also have a set of 2- and 3-point options based on completing a score from, say, the 7- and 15-yard lines, respectively.
To me, the argument currently being wielded by the NFL that they do not want to make it too easy for an opponent to come back at the end of a game is worthless. Nothing is earned over the course of a game until time runs out. If a coach is upset about a fourth-and-15 conversion or three-point conversion shaking the foundation of his once insurmountable lead, he should have done a better job preparing for said scenario.
4. College/AAF overtime hybrid
The Alliance of American Football came into its short-lived existence with an expedited overtime setup that gave each team one crack (four downs) starting at the 10-yard line with no option to kick an extra point. There can be ties. In college, teams alternate possessions from the 25-yard line until a winner is declared. I think, in borrowing the best of both worlds, each team should be guaranteed a possession from the 10-yard line and alternate until a winner is declared. This adds both a higher likelihood of a quick resolution and heightened drama in that coaches have one of three extra point options (see item No. 3 above) to choose from. A coach who scores first and kicks an extra point immediately leaves himself exposed to a team attempting a two-point try (and so on, and so on). No longer will we have to listen to Xx___JOSHALLENPIRATE___xX on Reddit complain about overtime coin flips unfairly favoring cities with liberal mayors, or something of the sort.
5. Eliminate the coach-to-QB and coach-to-green-dot-defensive-player radio
Chaos. Large, Chip Kelly-ian signs being brandished across the sidelines with strange symbols and pictures. Pressure on quarterbacks to rely only on non-verbal cues to read and react to the defense (and vice versa). This is the NFL world I want to live in. No longer will IT employees be made fun of by haughty quarterbacks slamming on the sides of their helmet because the communication ran out. No longer can people blame the crowd noise. We are all codebreakers now.
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