Proposed rule changes could significantly alter kicking, officiating in NFL

Remember Justin Tucker's 27-yard, last-second field goal that seemingly sailed over the right upright to beat the New England Patriots early in the 2012 regular season? The Patriots certainly do.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick made contact with a game official while contesting the ruling and now New England has submitted a potential rule change to the league that would extend the goal posts five additional feet above the crossbar. That would make it easier for the referees to determine whether a field goal -- such as the one that came off Tucker's right foot -- is good.


The submission is one of 13 potential rule changes that will be presented by the league's competition committee at the owners' meetings next week in Orlando, Fla. Many could have significant effects on the state of officiating and kicking in the NFL.

However, all the potential rule changes, most suggested by either the Patriots or Washington Redskins, are currently in the proposal stage and would need to be approved by 24 of 32 teams next week.

The most heavily debated ones involve the kicking game. The Patriots have proposed moving the line of scrimmage for extra points back from the 2-yard line to the 25, while maintaining the 2-yard line as the start for two-point conversion tries. Moving extra points back has been a popular topic recently, and Tucker has been one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed changes. It probably doesn't help his cause that he is 68 of 68 on extra-point tries in his two seasons as Ravens kicker.

"It's clearly been debated," said Rich McKay, the competition committee chairman and the president and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons, in a conference call yesterday. "I think the statistics are 1,267 extra points tried and 1,262 made. So I think there is that thought that, with the extra point, you need to add a little more skill in to it. One of the ways to do it would be just the way New England proposed, which is move it back and add more skill to it. You'd probably drop the success rate down to 90 percent as opposed to 99.6 percent this year."

The Redskins have also proposed moving up kickoffs to the 40-yard line, just three years after kickoffs had been moved to the 35. This change would ultimately lead to even more touchbacks and further limit the opportunities for return specialists like the Ravens' Jacoby Jones.

Instant replay also could be in for a shakeup if some of the proposals are passed. The competition committee, which includes Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, will present potential changes that include allowing coaches to challenge a wider variety of plays, permitting the game official to contact a central review headquarters to consult on replay challenges, earmarking personal foul calls as reviewable plays and installing cameras on certain boundaries to help improve vantage points on replay reviews.

Other proposed changes include eliminating overtime in preseason (which as an aside, should be a no-brainer if you've ever sat through the fourth quarter of a preseason game), taking away clock stoppages after sacks and changing where defensive fouls that occur behind the line of scrimmage are enforced.

While discussions continue about expanding the playoff field from 12 to 14, it is uncertain if there will be a resolution on that topic next week. The change will not be formally proposed by the committee, but it's not impossible that it will be voted on by owners next week.

"In last year's report, if you went back and looked at it, you would see we took a position on expanded playoffs, and we supported the expanded playoffs...,'' McKay said. "We have re-written that position ... it will be distributed to the members on Monday."

The committee will also reiterate that game officials have the authority to penalize players who use slurs. The committee did say that enforcing the rule with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty will be a "major point of emphasis" in 2014.

"We have the current rule -- unsportsmanlike conduct -- Rule 12, Section 3. It states that, 'Using abusive, threatening or insulting language, or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials or representatives of the league is unsportsmanlike conduct.' The N-word would fall under that category," said St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the competition committee. "The officials will be empowered to call a foul if there are racial slurs or statements regarding another player's sexual orientation, or even bating and insulting with verbal abuse. It falls under that. It is going to be a very significant point of emphasis."

There will also be discussions about seven potential changes to league by-laws. Those include increasing gameday rosters from 46 to 49 for regular season games played on days other than Sunday, Monday or in Week 1; increasing practice squad to 10 players; allowing more than one player to go on the injured reserve with designation to return list; and allowing trades prior to the start of the league year.