Analyzing the 2020 NFL Rule Change Proposals

The NFL announced on Tuesday that seven rule change proposals will be reviewed by the league’s owners at the end of March. The Philadelphia Eagles submitted four proposals, the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens jointly submitted two, and the Miami Dolphins submitted one.

Here is a rundown of the seven proposals, what they would look like, and if they could realistically be implemented in 2020.

Modification of Blindside Block
Full terminology: Modify the blindside block rule to prevent unnecessary fouls

This proposal, submitted by the Eagles, is a bit unclear considering the wording. However, the basic idea is that the current blindside block rule is too severe, causing referees to throw penalty flags for actions that aren’t actually that dangerous. Currently, it is a 15-yard penalty if a player “initiates a block when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line and makes forcible contact to his opponent with his helmet, forearm, or shoulder,” according to the NFL rulebook (Rule 12, Article 2, Section 7). The Eagles would like the league to modify what is considered a blindside block so that penalty flags are not thrown when a non-dangerous hit occurs. Given the increased awareness of safety, it is hard to imagine this proposal passes, but it is worth noting that the rule could use some clarity.

Make Scoring Reviews Permanent
Full terminology: Make permanent the expansion of automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any successful or unsuccessful try attempt

Quite simply, this rule suggested by the Eagles would make the automatic review rule a permanent part of the NFL after the rule was in a trial period. If accepted, the rule that all scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul would be subject to review. There has been no backlash regarding this rule during its trial run, so this proposal should pass and the rule should become official.

Onside Kick Alternative
Full terminology: Provide an alternative to the onside kick that would allow a team who is trailing in the game an opportunity to maintain possession of the ball after scoring (4th and 15 from the kicking team’s 25-yard line)

We saw this rule, which was also proposed by the Eagles, first put into effect in the XFL amidst their inaugural season. Instead of an onside kick, which gives teams one chance to pull off a miraculous play, teams would attempt one play from their own. 25-yard line to gain 15 yards, which would be similarly miraculous. This rule also allows for enhanced safety as it is well-documented that kickoffs often cause injuries. It seems unlikely such a drastic rule is passed, but the final voting totals could be closer than expected.

Overtime Modifications
Full terminology: Restore preseason and regular season overtime to 15 minutes and implement rules to minimize the impact of the OT coin toss

This rule, which was the last of four proposed by the Eagles, would increase the length of preseason and regular season overtime from 10 to 15 minutes, but does not seem to impact the playoff overtime format. The rule would also minimize the impact of the coin toss, as it is well-known that the winner of the coin toss is heavily-favored to win the game. In order to win in today’s overtime, the team that wins the coin toss simply needs to score a touchdown and the game is over without the other team getting a chance to tie the game. While the wording is vague, the Eagles’ proposal would likely include a clause that makes it so both teams touch the ball at least once. This could be a tough rule to pass because it includes some drastic modifications, but it would definitely improve the league. This could be another proposal with a close voting turnout.

Game Clock Operation on Declined Offensive Penalty
Full terminology: Provide the option to the defense for the game clock to start on the referee’s signal if the defense catches an offensive penalty that occurs late in either half

This rule, submitted by the Dolphins, is also vague in wording but it suggests that the defense can have the clock start on a referee signal rather than on the snap, which would cause the offense to lose precious seconds late in the half. This rule doesn’t seem necessary so it will likely be shut down by the owners.

Add a Booth Umpire
Full terminology: Add a “booth umpire” as an eighth game official to the officiating crew

This is another rule that was implemented by the XFL for their inaugural season and has been successful so far. Proposed by the Ravens and Chargers, this rule would include a booth umpire with eyes in the sky. They would be given access to all angles of the play, allowing them to communicate with the officials on the field and stop the game if a play needs to be further reviewed. While the NFL’s booth umpire likely would not be exposed as much as in the XFL, where the umpire and his computer full of footage of the play is free to be shown on live TV, this would still be a valuable resource to ensure every call on the field is correct. Other than pace of play, there is no reason this rule shouldn’t pass.

Add a Senior Technology Advisor
Full terminology: Add a Senior Technology Advisor to the referee to assist the officiating crew

There is not and (to the best of our knowledge) never has been a Senior Technology Advisor, so this staffer’s role is unclear. What we do know is that the Ravens and Chargers had Rule 19, Section 2 in mind when proposing this amendment; that rule surrounds game administration support from NFL officiating staff. It is hard to judge this proposal and what success it could have without knowing more about the amendment itself.

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