PHOENIX – The Valley of the Sun is still shrouded in darkness at the moment, but soon, dawn will break on Day 2 at the NFL Annual Meeting. With it, we're expecting some light to be shed on some of the proposed changes to the rule book involving the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Also on Tuesday, the AFC head coaches, including New England's Bill Belichick, will gather for a breakfast interview hour with assembled media here in Phoenix. You can watch that as it happens right here on patriots.com, beginning around 10:15 EST.
It will be interesting to hear from Belichick, who has resubmitted three proposals that failed to be adopted last year: 1) allowing coaches to challenge any play, except scoring plays (which are already subject to review); 2) adding fixed cameras to the end zone areas to assist with instant replay; and 3) moving the line of scrimmage for extra point attempts to the 15-yard line.
Of the three, the last one seems most likely to be approved. When Belichick submitted the idea a year ago, he asked for the scrimmage line to be at the 25-yard line, and the voters approved an experimental version of the proposal during the first two weeks of the preseason. With New England's amendment this year, my sense is that it could pass when the vote is taken again, possibly today or Wednesday, the final day of this year's meetings.
Belichick could still meet with resistance to his other two ideas, however, given some statements made this week by other key players at these sessions. Giants owner John Mara said he felt the camera idea would be cost-prohibitive, to which Patriots owner Robert Kraft countered Monday, "[W]e should always do what's best for the game… whatever supports the integrity or quality of the game, we can afford to do. That would be my feeling."
Meanwhile, the NFL's competition committee members held a press briefing Monday, during which they seemed to lower expectations for Belichick's desire to have challenges apply to all plays, including penalty calls.
"The committee's position for years has been to oppose involving fouls in replay for a lot of different reasons," said Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, a competition committee member. "We've looked at a lot of tape this offseason, we looked at the fouls particularly relating to hits on defenseless players. We had 27 of them this year, we looked at them as a group. We could not agree on a number of them, that's just the nature of the standard in replay.
"The Canadian Football League experimented – a one-year experiment last year – with adding to replay defensive pass interference, where the coach could actually generate the foul. They had 55 instances during the season. Forty-nine of those were initiated by the coach… and only six were overturned. The standard is very, very difficult. So those are the basic reason for the committee being opposed to adding fouls to replay."
The committee is also mulling changes to the rulebook that directly involve the Patriots. The first, as we mentioned last week, is the use of eligible players in ineligible positions – something New England used with great effectiveness in the most recent playoffs. The league is suggesting that this be ruled illegal from now on.
Also, during the Super Bowl, you may recall WR Julian Edelman taking a hard hit to the head during a catch at midfield. Edelman subsequently retained possession of the ball, and actually gained yards after the catch, but appeared to stagger well after the catch and hit (he later caught the game-winning touchdown pass). An independent certified athletic trainer – called an ATC spotter – is already present at each NFL game, but in the new proposal, will have greater authority in such situations.
"The Edelman situation was a play we looked at," competition committee chairman Rich McKay explained. "If passed, [ATC spotters] will then have the authority to stop the game if they see a player that displays obvious signs of disorientation or is clearly unstable. So in other words… all the officials on the field make sure we look for players that might be in distress and have them leave the game. But in case we miss a player, this ATC spotter will have the ability to stop the game, to radio to the side judge, I think it is, and have the side judge stop the game, have the player removed for a play, so the player will be looked at."
It's also possible that we could find out here in Phoenix who the Patriots opponent will be in the 2015 regular season opener. Recent tradition gives the Super Bowl champion from the previous season the honor of hosting the first game of the next year, during a Thursday prime time contest at the home of the champs. The first weekend of nationally televised games are often announced during the Annual Meeting, in advance of the full NFL schedule release in mid-April. However, an NFL spokesperson indicated that it's possible we won't get that news this week in Phoenix, to allow for more coordination of the full schedule. We'll keep our eyes and ears open, though, just in case.