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Analyzing the NFL rule changes for 2024

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By: John Holmes

Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

There were three new changes to the NFL rules for 2024. Here’s what I think about them.

On March 25th, the NFL approved three new rule changes for the 2024 NFL season.

First, a proposal from Detroit was accepted to make it so that teams are allowed three challenges provided that either of their first two is successful. This rule will have almost no impact on the game. Extended use of both informal and formal replay review by the officials have made it so that team challenges are relatively infrequent, and teams almost never run out of challenges. Additionally, the cost of a time out is a sufficient penalty to deter frivolous challenges most of the time. I expect this to add at most one or two challenges a year.

The second approved rule change will also rarely come up. Previously, if the offense committed a foul and then turned the ball over, the foul was not going to be enforced if the defense then committed a subsequent foul. For example, if the offense made an unnecessary roughness foul, and then threw an interception, but the defense committed holding on the return, the unnecessary roughness would not be enforced. Now, personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct fouls will still be enforced after a turnover by the offending team. So in the example above, the unnecessary roughness will offset the holding. In both cases enforcement will be from the spot of the holding, and the defense would keep the ball. This will rarely occur because the relevant “major fouls” rarely occur and most often occur in the process of attempting to make a tackle.

The third rule change is far more interesting than the first two. The league has added a rule banning the “hip-drop” tackle. This is a dangerous tackling technique where the tackler grabs the ball-carrier, and drops his weight onto the carriers legs. There has been immediate concern from players, especially defenders, that this ban is going to be lead to an endless number of penalties. That is a valid concern, though eventually it will be sorted out.

When any rule is changed about live ball officiating, implementation takes a long time. For example, when Horse Collar tackles were banned, officials had to do a few different things. First, rules and officiating had to agree on what precisely was the standard for a horse collar. Did it have to be above the name plate? One hand or two? What if the momentum was behind but one hand was on front of the player (or more commonly the side)? What if a player was tackled while already fending off another tackler so that his position changed unexpectedly? What if a player was pulled to the side by the collar? Then, the officials need to establish both procedure and keys for calling the penalty. What does the covering official look for? Do they need to visually see the tacklers hands to verify the position above the nameplate or can they assume from context? Does attempting to enforce this penalty mean officials should change their observation keys or positioning during a play? Does it mean that officials should flag suspected instances and ask their colleagues if they had a better view of the conduct, or should they only flag when they clearly see all elements of the offense? How zealous should officials be in enforcing the rule? Should officials feel empowered to flag it from the other side of the field?

There will be many rounds of iteration on answers to these questions. Occasionally a bit if it may be shared with teams, but none is likely to be shared with the public. If the change is not controversial and works smoothly, all the iterating will be finished by the end of the pre-season in 2024. The net result should be fewer injuries with no concerns. However, we have seen some changes to the rules in recent years where the process of achieving clear and viable procedures took multiple years to get right. If we think back to years of controversy over catch standards, defensive pass interference, roughing the passer, and most recently hits to the head or neck of a defenseless player, the same pattern held. There were evolving standards, it was publicly frustrating and felt inconsistent (largely because the standards needed refinement and changed multiple times), before eventually stabilizing and the controversy died down. That controversial path is potentially what we will suffer through with the Hip-drop tackle changes.

However, things could go much smoother. Sometimes the NFL makes officiating changes without any problems. For example, the NFL has quietly adjusted the standard for calling an illegal block in the back several times over the past decade. In each case, they did so without controversy or inconsistencies. The move to more unofficial replay is another example of a change that has gone very smooth. Officials care an enormous amount about the integrity of the game, and work very hard to achieve consistently excellent results. Sometimes rule changes work flawlessly. While I personally share some of the players concerns that this time will be challenging, a good implementation is not without precedent.

How do you think it will go this time, and what are your thoughts on these rule changes? Let us know in the comments below.

Originally posted on Mile High Report