Overtime and player safety were the themes at the NFL meetings this week. Barely mentioned was labor.
Even though these are the last scheduled meetings of all key league personnel outside of the players — commissioner Roger Goodell, all 32 owners, team general managers and coaches — before the collective bargaining agreement expires next March, labor was not much of an issue.
Sure, a work stoppage could be in the mix by this time next year. But other than reinforcing their unanimity, the owners concentrated on the field.
"We have to find common ground with the NFLPA," Goodell said Wednesday. "The real issue for us is to get back and focus on those things we can do to grow the game and grow the opportunities for everyone participating. We want a fair agreement that everyone is going to do well in, including the players."
Those players should be safer during games thanks to several rules changes. And they also might be playing longer in regular-season overtimes.
The NFL passed rules Wednesday to further protect defenseless players, including ball carriers who lose their helmet during a play.
The key rules change bars a defenseless player from being hit in the head or neck area by an opponent who launches himself and uses his helmet, shoulder or forearm to make contact. Previously, those kind of tackles were banned against receivers who couldn't protect themselves, but now it will apply to everyone.
"These are very specific to very vulnerable moments in the game," Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. "There's no reason not to protect these players. There's a history of potentially serious injuries in these types of collisions."
NFL rules also will now echo those in college when a player running with the ball loses his helmet. The whistle will blow immediately and the ball will be placed at the "progress spot" where the helmet came off.
A safety move to protect the umpire also was made. He now will be stationed behind the offensive backfield rather than in the linebackers area. The competition committee saw "a hundred" examples of umpires being run over, co-chairman Rich McKay said.
As for the overtime modification, several owners said they also expect the rule instituted the previous day for the playoffs to be revisited in May to include the regular season.
"It's a better system, so why not have a better system every game?" Lurie said of expanding the new OT rule that allows a team losing the coin toss and allowing a field goal on the first series to then get a possession.
New York Giants owner John Mara added he expects discussion and possibly a vote on using the new OT system to occur at the owners meetings in Dallas in May. The change was proposed only for the postseason by the competition committee and was passed 28-4 Tuesday.
Goodell said the league wants to meet with the players and the networks for some input and further discuss the ramifications of expanding the OT change.
"We had a proposal for the postseason, we passed that with the understanding that it'll be discussed for the regular season," he said.
Goodell also mentioned scheduling only intradivision games on the final weekend of the season, and placing many such games in Week 16, as well. He said at the end of last season he was concerned about teams not playing their regulars after clinching titles and is hopeful such scheduling would help avoid that.
The 2010 schedule will be released in April.
Also passed Wednesday:
_During a field goal or extra point attempt, the defensive team can't position any player on the line directly across from the snapper. Previously, a player needed to have his helmet outside the snapper's shoulder pads.
_A dead ball personal foul on the final play of the second or fourth quarters will cause a 15-yard penalty on the second half or overtime kickoff. Previously in those situations, no penalty was enforced, although players subsequently could be fined by Goodell.
_If a punt returner makes a fair catch signal and muffs the ball, he is entitled to "reasonable opportunity" to catch the muff before it hits the ground without interference of the coverage team. The ball will be rewarded at the spot of the interference, but there will be no penalty yardage marked off.
_When a ball strikes a videoboard (as one punt did last preseason at the new Cowboys Stadium), guide wire or sky cam, the play is whistled dead and replayed. The game clock is reset to when that play started.
The replay judge will be allowed to initiate a review if he believes there was some sort of interference with the ball. This is the only case outside of the final two minutes of the second and fourth quarters and overtime that the booth can order a replay.
Coaches can also challenge whether there was interference with the ball.
_If the clock is stopped in the final minute of either half for a replay review, but would not have stopped without the review, officials will run off 10 seconds before resuming play. Either team could take a timeout to void the 10-second runoff.