What NFL Rule Changes Are Under Consideration at the 2023 NFL Owners Meetings?

Big tweaks to replay, a look at the playoff format, and further elimination of returns are among the rule changes up for a vote at the NFL owners meetings.

The NFL owners meetings are a time for choosing. And among the choices before the 32 owners: Which rules to change, and which ones to keep.

The following proposed NFL rule changes will go up for a vote, with a three-fourths super-majority needed to pass.

NFL Rule Changes Proposed by Competition Committee

No Free Launch

The NFL’s defenseless player rule (Section 2, Article 9 of the NFL’s constitution) has already prohibited tacklers from leaving “both feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent, and [using] any part of his helmet to initiate forcible contact against any part of his opponent’s body.”

The committee wants that rule to also include launching from one foot.

Quit Tripping

Currently, the penalty for tripping an opponent is 10 yards (and an automatic first down), as spelled out in Rule 12, Section 1, Article 8.

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The competition committee wants that rule struck and a change to Rule 12, Section 2, Article 14 that makes the infraction 15 yards and subject to possible disqualification.

Keep Your Hands Off

The old Rule (8, Section 7, Article 4)?

A spot-foul penalty of five yards for “handing ball forward to ineligible receiver behind line of scrimmage or not from scrimmage after a change of possession.”

The proposed new rule?

A spot-foul penalty of five yards for “handing ball forward after a change of possession.”

Five for Illegal Punts and Kicks

The committee wants to change Rule 9, Section 1, Article 1.

Previously, punts, drop kicks, or place kicks beyond the line of scrimmage were a loss of 10 yards with the down replayed.

But in an effort to make “the penalty for illegal punts, drop kicks, or placekicks consistent with other illegal acts, such as illegal forward passes,” the committee wants the punishment to be a loss of down and a five-yard penalty.

Punts Are the New Kickoffs

The NFL has already disincentivized teams bringing kickoffs out of the end zone by making the line of scrimmage after touchbacks the 25 and not the 20.

Now the league could do the same for punts. A change to Rule 11, Section 6, Article 3 would do just that.

The reasons listed for the proposed change? “Competitive equity, consistency, player safety.”

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive VP of football operations, pointed out on a conference call Friday that punt returns are “the most penalized and injurious play” in football.

End-of-Half Clock Rule

The NFL currently adds an untimed down to the end of each half if the would-be final play involves a double foul.

But the committee wants to change that Rule (4, Section 8, Article 2) and end the half without a do-over if the defense’s only penalty is a dead-ball foul. If that foul is for unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct, it will be applied to the second-half kickoff (or overtime, if applicable).

The committee wants this change to prevent “the offense from benefiting by an extension of the half as a result of their foul).

More Special Teams Erasure

The NFL really, really wants to eliminate kick and punt returns without actually removing them completely.

There’s no other way to interpret their recent proposals, including this potential change to Rule 10, Section 2, Article 4.

The NFL now wants to “put the ball in play at the receiving team’s 25-yard line if there is a fair catch on a free kick (kickoff and safety kick) behind the receiving team’s 25-yard line.”

Previously, the ball would be placed at the spot of the fair catch. The NFL cites player safety as the only reason for the proposed rule change.

The Helmet Is Not a Weapon

The competition committee wants all the impermissible usage of the helmet listed in on Article (10, of Section 2).

The new language would stipulate that it’s a 15-yard, automatic first-down penalty if a player:

(a) lowers his head and makes forcible contact with his helmet against an opponent; or

(b) uses any part of his helmet or facemask to butt or make forcible contact to an opponent’s head or neck area.

The offending player may also be disqualified.

NFL Rule Changes Proposed by Teams

An Alternative To Onside Kicks

The onside kick has become an impossible task with previous changes to the rule that prioritized player safety over success rate.

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Just three of the 56 onside attempts in 2022 were recovered by the kicking team. The Eagles propose an alternative: a 4th-and-20 from the kicking team’s 20-yard line.

Coach’s Challenges for Personal Fouls

Currently, there’s no recourse for teams on the wrong end of a bad personal foul call. Dan Campbell wants to change that.

The Detroit Lions are proposing that the coach’s challenge system includes personal fouls called on the field.

The change would amend Rule 15, Section 3, Article 9, which currently permits reviews of plays involving possession or touching the ball or ground; plays governed by the goal line, boundary lines, line of scrimmage, line to gain; number of players on the field at the snap; game administration; and disqualification of a player.

More Opportunities for a Third Challenge

The second of three Lions proposed changes to the challenge/replay system, this modification to Rule 15, Section 1 would allow teams a third challenge if they were successful on one of their prior two tries.

The current rule allows for a third challenge only when teams are successful on each of their first two tries.

Expand Replay Official’s Jurisdiction on Penalties

The Lions’ third of three proposed replay changes would expand the replay official’s jurisdiction to allow for consultation regarding penalty assessment.

This change to Rule 15, Section 3 would allow the replay official and designated members of the officiating department to consult with on-field officials, or conduct a replay review, or advise the game officials on specific, objective aspects of a play when clear and obvious video evidence is present, and/or to address game administration issues a foul that has been called involving the position of a player or action at, beyond, or behind a specific distance from the line of scrimmage.

Replay on Failed Fourth-Down Attempts

The Lions aren’t the only franchise dissatisfied with the NFL’s replay system. The Houston Texans have a proposed fix as well.

The Texans want to amend Rule 15, Section 1, Article 2 and expand the replay official’s jurisdiction to allow for review on failed fourth-down attempts.

It’s the only change of possession scenario currently not at the officiating team and NFL’s discretion.

Jersey Numbers

The Philadelphia Eagles want to permit the use of 0 as a jersey number and to let kickers and punters use any number between 0-49 and 90-99.

That would amend Rule 5, Section 1, Article 2, which currently states that numbers must start with 1 and that punters and placekickers wear 1-19.

Make Roughing the Passer Reviewable

Perhaps no judgment call enrages fans (and coaches and players) more than the league’s roughing the passer penalty.

Right now, there is no recourse when officials clearly get it wrong. The Los Angeles Rams want to change that, amending Rule 15, Section 1 and Section 3 to make fouls for roughing the passer called on the field subject to replay assist and/or review by a coach’s challenge.

Expand the Crackback Prohibition

Rule 12, Section 2, Article 6 currently states an illegal crackback block “occurs within an area five yards on either side of the line of scrimmage, including within close-line play, by an offensive player who is moving toward the position from which the ball was snapped … and the offensive player was in a backfield position and in motion when the ball was snapped, and was moving toward or beyond the position from which the ball was snapped.”

New York Jets want to expand it to include when “the offensive player was in a backfield position and in motion when the ball was snapped.”

Play Clock Following Replay

The Los Angeles Chargers want to make the play clock adjustment after an instant replay reversal consistent with other timing rules.

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The change would amend Rule 4, Section 6, Article 3, and Section 7, Article 4.

Potential NFL Bylaw Changes

Beyond the in-game rule changes, a number of potential bylaw changes will come up for a vote.

According to the NFL, they are:

  • To allow a club to designate an emergency third quarterback from its inactive list or practice squad who would be eligible to enter a game in the event the first two quarterbacks on the game day active list are ruled “Out.” (Proposal by Detroit Lions; amends Article XVII, Section 17.3.)
  • To seed Wild Card teams higher than Division Championships in the playoffs if (i) the Division Champions have win-loss-tied percentages lower than .500, and (ii) the Wild Card teams have four or more wins than the Division Champions with losing records. (Proposed by Los Angeles Chargers; amends Article XX, Section 20.2, and Article XXI, Section 21.4.)
  • To change the claiming period to Monday for players who are waived on the Friday and Saturday of the last week of the regular season. (Proposed by Competition Committee.)
  • To insert Strength of Victory as the second tiebreaker for awarding contracts. (Proposed by Competition Committee.)
  • To adjust the rules for postseason signings to account for standard elevations rule; to freeze postseason rosters at 4 p.m. ET on the Wednesday following the last week of the regular season. (Proposed by Competition Committee.)

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