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NFL rule changes could be coming following new proposals in 2021

What are the latest NFL rule change proposals for 2021? Tony Pauline and Trey Wingo give their opinions on the most controversial proposals.

As with every offseason, 2021 will see the NFL consider a number of interesting rule changes. These proposals for rule changes come from NFL teams as well as recommendations by the competition committee. In the April 7 Draft Insiders show, Pro Football Network Chief NFL Analyst Trey Wingo and Chief Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline discussed some of the proposed NFL rule changes.

Be sure to join PFN Chief NFL Analyst Trey Wingo and Chief Draft Analyst Tony Pauline every week on Draft Insiders as they break down all you need to know heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Subscribe to our PFN YouTube channel and hit the notifications icon so you can tune in live every Wednesday at 9 PM ET.

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Will the NFL make changes to the overtime rules again this offseason?

The NFL overtime rules are always a hotly debated subject. This offseason, however, the proposed changes could be the most intriguing yet.

The Baltimore Ravens have proposed two potential rule changes to the NFL based on the “Spot & Choose” process. One suggestion would be a true sudden death format similar to the old overtime rules, while the other would see a full period of overtime lasting 7 minutes and 30 seconds played.

What is the “Spot & Choose” process?

The concept of “Spot & Choose” is relatively simple. One team selects where to spot the ball to start overtime. Subsequently, the other team decides whether to play on offense or defense first based on the spot. A coin toss determines which team gets to spot the ball and who is choosing offense/defense.

For example, if the Ravens were spotting the ball, they may place it at the five-yard line. Their opponents then decide whether they want to start on offense from their own five-yard line or make the Ravens start on offense from that spot. On the Draft Insiders show, Wingo gave his thoughts on overtime and the potential rule change.

“I get all of this, but if you are going to try and change overtime, and I’m O.K. if you want to keep it the way it is, it is not my favorite, but if you want to keep it, let’s just make it as simple as possible. Each team gets the ball one time and then you are on your own. I feel like sometimes we are making stuff up just to make it more interesting and make it more complicated, but we are not solving the actual problem; how do we make this as fair as possible? I know it is not an exact comparison, but sometimes the overtime rule in the NFL feels like if we go to extra innings in MLB and only one team gets to bat.”

Why is another change to the overtime rules being proposed?

Part of the formula for NFL overtime is ensuring the coin toss does not give one team a significantly higher chance to win than the other.

Under the old overtime rules that were in place between 1994 and 2010, that was not the case. The team winning the coin toss won 58.6 percent of games, and 32.7 percent of the time they did so on their first possession.

Contrarily, the rule change heading into 2011 where teams could only win the game immediately with a touchdown changed those numbers. From 2011 to 2020, just 46.5 percent of the teams who won the coin toss have won the game. Furthermore, just 17.4 percent of teams won the game on their first possession.

As a result, the NFL has got the balance somewhat right. The problem is that we have seen high-profile games like the 2019 AFC Championship Game decided on the first offensive drive. Moments like this have led to considerations that a new process could work better.

The “Spot & Choose” process would certainly add more strategy to overtime. How the process is explained and highlighted on television coverage will be crucial to understanding the process. If it is badly explained and demonstrated, it could leave more confusion than the current process. Pauline addressed this concern on the show.

“The more complicated they make it, the more they make it that people have to think about and figure out what is going on. I think that is more of a turn-off.”

Are there any further potential rule changes regarding NFL overtime?

The only other proposed change to the overtime rules is the removal of overtime in the preseason. Given preseason games do not count towards a team’s final record, a game ending in a tie is not really important. With this in mind, we could likely see the removal of overtime from preseason games.

What proposed rule changes are the NFL considering for the onside kick?

Much like with overtime, the onside kick is a regular point of discussion. In the last four years, there have been 216 onside kick attempts. Just 22 (10.2 percent) of those have been successful for the team kicking off. With two proposals, the NFL is pondering ways to create more excitement around the onside kick.

First, the NFL is looking to limit the number of players in the setup zone to nine. The setup zone is a 15-yard area stretching from the 45-yard line of the kicking team to the 40-yard line of the receiving team. Limiting the number of players in this box to nine would increase the chances of an onside kick being recovered while also reducing the number of players involved in the battle for the ball.

The second proposal surrounds the introduction of the 4th-and-15 onside kick alternative.

How would the 4th-and-15 onside kick alternative work?

A version of this rule was trialed in the short-lived Alliance of American Football league in 2019. Following a score, a team can attempt to try and gain 15 or more yards on a single play from their own 25-yard line to retain possession of the ball. If they succeed, they retain possession under normal rules. However, if they fail, the opposing team regains possession at the dead-ball spot.

To prevent teams from doing this throughout the game, each team will be limited to a maximum of two attempts per game.

In terms of how this will impact the chances of a team retaining possession, there should be a slight increase. Since 2002, the chances of recovering an onside kick was 13.2 percent. Meanwhile, in the same time period, teams have converted on 4th and 15 on 16.8 percent of attempts.

Pauline addressed some concerns around this new NFL rule proposal on the show.

“Why do they want to keep giving an advantage to the team that is behind? A team is winning, and has basically played well enough to be leading in the waning moments of the game. I don’t understand why the league would institute rules that would put them at a disadvantage. It could lead to some exciting highlights, but I just think it is a competitive imbalance there.”

Changes to rules surrounding NFL jersey numbers is another potential change

Currently the NFL has extremely tight rules surrounding what numbers players can wear. For example, as it stands, only QB, kickers, and punters can wear single-digit numbers. Numbers between 10-19 are for QB, K, P, and wide receiver. Running backs and defensive backs can wear numbers between 20 and 49. Linebackers are restricted to wearing numbers between 40 and 59.

The main reason for the restrictions are surrounding players being eligible to be considered a receiver. This mainly focuses around restrictions for offensive linemen, who can wear numbers between 50 and 79. If a player wearing that number enters the game with the intention of being an eligible receiver they must “report” their intention to the officials. The officials then inform the opposing team that said player is “eligible”.

However, the proposed rule change surrounding NFL numbers would shake up those restrictions. Under the new proposals here would be the potential options for each position.

  • QB, K, P: 1-19
  • RB, TE, WR: 1-49, 80-89
  • DB: 1-49
  • LB: 1-59, 90-99
  • OL: 50-79
  • DL: 50-79, 90-99

These rule changes would not impact offensive linemen having to report as eligible. Their designation, and that of defensive linemen would remain the same the previous rules. However, the other position on offense and defense would have more flexibility in selecting their jersey numbers from 2021 if the rule change passes.

What are the other rule proposals that the NFL is considering this offseason?

A handful of further NFL rule proposals are also in consideration this offseason:

  • Eliminate blocks below the waist outside the “Tight End Box.”
  • Replay Official may advise game officials on objective aspects of play.
  • Booth Umpire added as the eighth member of officiating crew.
  • Modify ball spotting for penalties on consecutive try attempts.
  • Add the loss of down to penalty for a second forward pass from behind the line of scrimmage.

Want more NFL news and analysis?

Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@PFN365) to stay up to date with all things around the NFL. Also, continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis concerning the 2021 season and beyond.

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