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NFL Teams Enact Simplified Catch Rule

Posted Mar 27, 2018

Eight rules changes in all passed by owners for 2018 season

Andre Ellington's catch and fumble against the Seahawks would have stood under the new catch rule. It was overturned to an incomplete pass last year.

After years of controversy, the NFL has simplified the catch rule.

All 32 teams voted unanimously to change the language defining a reception on Tuesday at the annual owner’s meetings in Orlando. The requirement now is three-fold: a player must control the ball, get two feet or a body part down, and then make a football act.

“It’s just a simple three-step process,” said competition committee chairman Rich McKay in a conference call last week. “We got rid of going to the ground, which was definitely causing some of these plays to be ruled incomplete.”

There has been plenty of debate surrounding the rule in recent years, most notably on Dez Bryant’s no catch while reaching for the end zone against the Packers in the 2014 Divisional Round. Last season, Steelers tight end Jesse James had a go-ahead touchdown overturned against the Patriots after losing control of the ball while also diving for the end zone. Both plays would be receptions under the new guidelines.

Cardinals running back Andre Ellington lost a fumble after he stumbled following a catch against the Seahawks this year, but the call was overturned to an incompletion upon review. Under the new guidelines, the fumble would have stood.

Like many others, Cardinals coach Steve Wilks is glad to have a more concrete idea of what is and isn’t a catch.

“That’s the biggest word right there, is clarity,” Wilks said at the NFC coaches’ breakfast on Tuesday in Orlando. “I think it also depends on what side you are on in terms of the call. But now, coaches and players around the league will feel better about that. Now we understand exactly what it is. We looked at a couple of clips (Monday) where in the past it wasn’t a catch and now we’re talking about securing the football, making a football move and now, resulting in a fumble (if the ball comes out.) That’ll be the call this year.”

Another significant rule change was made later in the day. The owners passed the strenghtening of a rule that makes it illegal for a player to lower his head to intitiate contact. The infraction can cost 15 yards or lead to an ejection. The goal is to decrease helmet-to-helmet hits and dissuade players from using the helmet as a weapon.

There were eight rules/policy changes enacted in all. The others were:

     - Touchbacks after a free kick have permanently been moved to the 25-yard-line.
     - Clubs can trade players from injured reserve.
     - Replay officials can instruct on-field officials to disqualify a player for a flagrant non-football act when a foul for that act is called on the field.
     - A rule giving teams more latitude for timing, testing and physicals of draft-eligible players at their facility has been made permanent.
     - For one year only, it will be easier for a team to reacquire a player who it had previously assigned to waivers.
     - The 10-day postseason claiming period has been reduced to 24 hours.

Two of the more high-profile rule change suggestions did not pass. There was a proposal for pass interference penalties to switch from spot fouls to 15-yard penalties, like the college football rule, but the Jets withdrew it. As a defensive coach, Wilks would have been on board with that change.

“I would love to take the 15 at any point and time,” Wilks said with a smile. “That’s my preference.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Troy Vincent, a former Pro Bowl cornerback who is now the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations, was against the idea of the change.

“The difference between college ball and professional, the professional defensive backs, we’re too skilled,” Vincent said on a conference call last week. “We’re too smart. And you can play the play. You can strategic about it and play around it. When you get to this level you have to play the play. You don’t want the defensive back be able to strategically grab a guy.”

A rule change allowing coaching hires to be made official while their current teams are still in the postseason has been tabled. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels backed out of the Colts job after the Super Bowl despite agreeing to it earlier in the month. The proposal could be re-visited down the line.

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