The NFL takes five (baby) steps towards player safety

The NFL owners meeting in Phoenix, AZ has failed to reach a consensus on several big issues, but they did manage to agree on a few big rule changes for player safety. After a slew of rule changes in recent years protecting quarterbacks and wide receivers, owners are now turning their focus towards protecting vulnerable defensive players.

The following is an overview of the five rule changes, and whether they will matter.

THE MEDICAL TIMEOUT

A certified athletic trainer will have the authority to stop play and evaluate an injury with a medical timeout.

Should we care?

Yes. Before Wednesday’s rule change, only the head coach and the players on the field had the power of the TO. Even after what seems to be an injurious hit, players’ and coaches’ immediate concern is the next play. For them, timeouts are too valuable to waste on a maybe-maybe-not concussion.

By giving an independent trainer the power to stop play, a coach’s interest in keeping a drive’s momentum going no longer supersedes his interest in player safety.

If this rule was already in effect, we likely would not have seen a woozy Julian Edelman finishing out the drive for the Patriots after getting rocked by Kam Chancellor in the Super Bowl.

NO PEEL-BACK BLOCKS OUTSIDE OF THE BOX

In 2013, NFL owners agreed to outlaw the peel-back block within the tackle box. This meant that an offensive lineman or back could not let a defender by him, only to take his legs out from under him. This rule was inspired by Matt Slauson’s season-ending hit on Brian Cushing in 2012. This new addendum does not seem to have been inspired by a particular injury, but could prevent heat-seeking receiver/blockers in the mold of Hines Ward from chopping down an unsuspecting defensive back.

Should we care?

Probably not. Blocking receivers like Ward usually hit high when they sneak up on d-backs. However, with high hits being increasingly penalized, one could see why a receiver would look to take a defender’s legs out from under him. It’s a smart preventative measure, but don’t expect to see it called very frequently in the coming season.

BACKS CAN’T CHOP ENGAGED DEFENSIVE PLAYER OUTSIDE THE TACKLE BOX

In another measure to protect vulnerable defensive backs and linebackers, running backs may no longer take out the legs of a defender already engaged with an offensive blocker.

Should we care?

Yeah. While this mouthful of a rule will also rarely be called, it eliminates the possibility of a defensive player sustaining a completely unnecessary season ending ACL tear.

NO HITTING DEFENSELESS RECEIVERS AFTER AN INTERCEPTION

Prowling safeties may no longer hit a receiver post-interception under the guise of a pass defender.

Should we care?

Eh. Receivers are already quite well protected, and this situation seems pretty rare as well.

NO PUSHING TEAMMATES DURING PUNTS OR FIELD GOALS

Say goodbye to rugby scrums at the line of scrimmage during field goals. Hard to see the major safety implications for this one.

Should we care?

Yes. This rule will be tough to enforce, as there is a fine line between pushing your teammate and charging at the opponent. The rule will be fodder for many a call-in radio show if it is ends up reversing a game winning field goal or turning a punt into a first down.