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Notable 2017 NFL rule changes

Bill Belichick needs to find a new way to block placekicks, and he still can't challenge whatever call he wants.

Of the 24 proposals to modify or enact new NFL rules and procedures this coming year, exactly half were approved by the clubs during voted at the league's annual meeting in Phoenix on Tuesday. Among them, the prohibition of the so-called "leaper" field goal/extra point blocking tactic that Belichick's Patriots have executed successfully in each of the past two seasons.

Player safety was frequently cited as the impetus for this change, which was officially submitted by the Philadelphia Eagles. As more teams began to attempt the maneuver that New England made popular – sending a defender rushing toward the line of scrimmage and leaping over it to get in the opposing backfield – kicking teams adjusted and often blocked the leaping player, sending him hurtling to the ground in potentially risky ways.

Health and behavioral concerns also served as the underlying rationale for several other minor rule adjustments being ushered in, including amendments to the language on certain types of player-to-player blocks and tackles, as well as on-field disciplinary action for players/teams incurring multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

Perhaps the most conspicuous change will be the one involving the officiating crew. From now on, when a referee reviews a challenged play, he will no longer retreat to the sideline and duck "under the hood" to watch replays on a hidden monitor. Instead, a handheld tablet device will be brought to him on the field and he will have headset communication with the NFL's vice president of officiating in New York. That executive (Dean Blandino) and his group at league headquarters, not the referee himself, will make the final determination, which the referee will then announce to the audience as before.

The league contends that this will lead to more efficient and consistent replay decisions. However, the NFL's desire to make all calls accurately did not extend to the proposal by Buffalo and Seattle (and previously advocated by the Patriots at past annual meetings) to allow coaches to challenge any disputed play. That measure, like its predecessors, failed to garner the necessary three-quarters of votes (minimum 24 of 32 in favor) required for passage.

There are a handful of other minor procedural changes involving transactions for injured players and scheduling meetings between clubs and draft-eligible players. Furthermore, clubs are now permitted to hire new head coaches and front office personal away from teams that are competing in the playoffs, as long as the team that's still competing in the postseason gives its permission.

Meanwhile, the Competition Committee's idea to reduce the length of overtime from 15 minutes to 10 was tabled for further discussion at the spring league meeting in Chicago.

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