By Dave Spadaro
The biggest move of the NFL’s offseason comes not from a quarterback switching teams or a trade that alters the balance of power in the NFC. No, the biggest move is one that changes the game of football as we know it.
During last week’s NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla., the league’s owners voted unanimously to enact a rule that effectively prohibits the use of the helmet to initiate contact with another player. The depth of this rule — which can manifest itself in the form of a penalty, a game ejection, a fine and even a suspension — is so staggering that it represents perhaps the most fundamental difference to hit the NFL in decades.
To repeat: A player is now not permitted to use his helmet to initiate contact in the case of 1) Making a tackle; 2) A ballcarrier lowering his head driving into a pile of defenders while trying to gain an extra yard; and 3) Bullrushing an offensive lineman with a helmet-to-the-chest move to knock the blocker off balance and then running through him on the way to the quarterback.
Those are three examples. The way the rule is written and made NFL law — a 32–0 vote by the owners made it a go — officials are to throw a flag when they see the helmet being used, for lack of a better term, as a weapon.
“We’ve done so much research and investigation on what creates the real concussive plays in the NFL and it became obvious that so many of the plays are through the lowering of the helmet and using the helmet as a weapon,” Eagles Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie said during the annual meeting. “This, I thought, was very important that we try to eliminate the helmet as a weapon. It’s also bad for the person who is perpetrating it because a lot of injuries happen by the player who is actually lowering the helmet and hitting.
“So, it’s not just helmet to helmet. This is meant to eliminate the use of the helmet as a weapon anywhere. The №1 priority for the NFL is to make the game as healthy and safe as possible.”
Are you paying attention? Good, because the NFL game is going to be very different, starting immediately. This isn’t a rule that the league will “ease” into implementing. This is a rule that takes place from the jump of the 2018 season, and it’s going to mean a much more difficult time for the defense, a change in the natural instincts of the game for some players and a new way for fans to view the game. You’re going to see more scoring. You are going to see more missed tackles.
Hopefully, you’re going to see fewer concussions. That’s the key here. Concussions bumped up 13½ percent in 2017 from 2016, and that’s just too significant to ignore. As a result, the league voted on, and passed it unanimously, a rule that radically changes the NFL’s game.
Are you ready for the next generation of the NFL? Hope so, because the fans are going to have to be prepared just as much as the players. The new NFL is here with, likely, many more points scored and many fewer players wobbling off the field with concussions.