Player movement via free agency has slowed down considerably, but there are even more changes coming ahead of the 2021 NFL season. While the league continues to adapt to new safety protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual adoption of new playing rules will soon follow.
We’ve already seen one major change: The 2021 season will feature 17 regular-season games. When league owners get together again, they’ll be looking at 11 proposed rule changes. In order to get approved, at least 24 owners need to vote in favor of each proposal; there are four from the NFL’s competition committee and the remaining seven are from various teams.
Here are three rule changes we would like to see adopted:
‘Tom Brady’ rule
The Los Angeles Rams have proposed a rule change inspired by Tom Brady. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback got away with a head-scratching play that, when reading the box score, seems improbable until you see it as it happened.
In the Week 11 matchup between the Rams and Buccaneers, Brady completed two passes during the same play. The first was a pass attempt that was batted backward into his hands (again), and the ensuing throw was an eight-yard completion to wide receiver Mike Evans.
There’s already a rule in place preventing two forward passes on the same play; it’s penalized by a five-yard penalty. What the Rams, who eventually won that game 27-24, were facing was 1) declining the penalty, which would give the Buccaneers a chance to convert on fourth-and-2 (instead of fourth-and-10) or 2) accepting the penalty to give Brady and company another opportunity with a long third down. What Los Angeles proposes is both a five-yard penalty and a loss of down.
Eliminate overtime in preseason
The new regular-season schedule directly affects preseason play. Teams can play no more than 20 games a season and with the added week during the regular season, there will only be three preseason games. The NFL competition committee wants to take that one step further and has proposed to eliminate overtime in the preseason.
The preseason is becoming more and more irrelevant, and the luster of these games wears off well before the fourth quarter when starters and even second-string players are no longer on the field. The score is irrelevant, and the record is meaningless; still, NFL owners have voted time and time again to keep overtime part of the preseason. The adoption of this rule could bring the league one step closer to putting player safety over owners’ pocketbooks.
Amend overtime during the regular season
Here’s where things get a little more interesting. Both the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles took the competition committee’s proposal and have amended it to also include changes to the regular season’s overtime rules. They’ve proposed “to change the options for winner of an overtime coin toss and eliminate sudden death format” as well as eliminate overtime in the preseason.
There’s little-to-no getting past overtime during the regular season. The frustrating rules of overtime can be more maddening than the outcome itself. Often, whichever team wins the coin toss is at a major advantage because a touchdown on the opening drive ends the game. The Ravens and Eagles propose to change the modified sudden-death format into a more traditional one.
There could be some resistance to this proposal, as detailed by the Boston Globe:
“The ‘spot and choose’ method is intriguing, but may not pass on its first try. NFL owners usually are hesitant to make significant changes to the game, and this is the first year any team has proposed the ‘spot and choose’ concept.
“The untimed overtime period also has its merits, but the NFL has been trying to reduce overtime play in the last few years because its research shows that more injuries happen in OT when players are fatigued.
“And there is little evidence that overtime needs fixing. In 2020, the team that won the overtime coin toss went 4-5-1, and only one game ended with a touchdown on the first possession.”
If this rule is adopted, two key changes would take place: One team would choose the spot of the ball and end zone to defend while the other would decide whether to start on offense or defense. This would eliminate the kickoff. The other change would decrease the length of overtime, from 10 minutes to 7 minutes and 30 seconds, and adopt the truer sudden-death format.