PALM BEACH, Fla. – NFL decision-makers are considering 14 significant changes to the way clubs do business in 2012. Seven are considered "bylaw" proposals (amendments to procedural moves in the front office), while the other half directly impact on-field activities.
On the bylaw side, some interesting ideas have been floated. The most notable one is perhaps also the longest overdue.
The Competition Committee – a select coaches and club executives – is suggesting the addition of a "Designated for Return" label for a player who suffers a major injury early in the season. Each team would be allowed one such designation per year, giving that player the opportunity to go on injured reserve, but return to game action eight weeks later.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said this week he strongly supports the idea, citing a little-known fact from the 2008 season, when QB Tom Brady went down in the first game with a season-ending knee injury.
"I think it's very beneficial for the league, because even when Tommy got injured a few years ago, there was a chance that he could have come back," revealed Kraft. "In the end, there are so many great players in this league – it's a physical game – and especially, knowing that players can come back in the second half of the season … I think it'll help to improve the quality of the game, and I think it's a plus."
Another injury-related proposal by the Competition Committee would also affect the roster by creating a special inactive spot on game days for players who've suffered a concussion the previous week. This inactive designation would be in addition to the seven game-day inactives already allowed, thereby giving teams the flexibility of having a 54-man roster, rather than the standard 53, for that week.
Also of note, the Committee wants to expand the year-round team roster limit from 80 to a suggested 90 players, and move the trading deadline from the Tuesday after Week 6 to the same day after Week 8. That would give teams almost a full half-season of football, in most cases, to make deals with other clubs. Two proposals offer the most intriguing possibilities for change in the latter category.
First, the Buffalo Bills have suggested taking instant replay decisions out of the hands of the referee. All such rulings would be made by a designated "Replay Official" sitting in a booth above the field. The reason given is to reduce the time currently eaten up by on-field reviews.
However, it will be interesting to see if the rest of the league wants to strip its officials of such an important responsibility. Commissioner Roger Goodell, in fact, has been a staunch proponent of the idea of making NFL officiating a full-time job (it is currently part-time), and this proposal would seem to run counter to that idea.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, meantime, have asked that the new overtime rules that went into effect during last season's playoffs (giving both teams an opportunity to possess the ball) be applied during the regular season as well. This would eliminate the current "sudden death" overtime format that has been the norm for years. Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay – Atlanta's President/CEO – explained why the rule only applied to the playoffs last season.
"Part of life for us on the committee involves 24 votes, and that is always necessary to pass a rule. In getting the OT change passed, we felt like we had a better chance if we started in the postseason. We also felt we could make a distinction between the two. The distinction was that in the postseason, you lose and you go home. In the regular season, as valuable as our games are, you still get to play another game. So in our mind, there was an argument that at least a distinction could be made at the time. That is the way we sold it and pushed it.
"We also wanted to have a chance to put it in and see how coaches liked it and see how the teams liked it," added McKay. "What was interesting was, if you remember a couple of years back when we put it in, the NFLPA had some pushback on it and was a little concerned by it. The coaches were concerned about it. I think everyone is a lot more comfortable now. When we brought it up to the NFLPA this year at our meeting in Indianapolis, they absolutely supported going to that same system in the regular season. So, sometimes it just takes a little while to get comfortable with what the system is going to be."
This morning, the league as a whole is scheduled to vote on all 14 proposals. Results are expected to be announced via a media conference call later this afternoon. That will bring an official end to business here at the 2012 NFL Annual Meeting at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach.