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2018 NFL Rule Changes

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Three new things, one of which has everyone talking.

NFL: Super Bowl LIII Handoff Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The bourgeoisie got together yesterday and voted on proposed rule changes for the 2018 NFL season. They came up with three new rules regarding helmet-to-helmet contact, kickoffs, and everyone’s favorite topic, protesting the National Anthem.

Players can no longer lower their head to initiate contact. They will be penalized fifteen yards for violating the rule and can even be ejected. A direct quote from the league’s senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron to the Los Angeles Times explains:

We did have coaches say, ‘We always taught [ballcarriers] that … your idea is to lower your head and get as many yards as you can,’ “ said Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee. “The answer to that is, ‘Yes, it was. But no, it can’t be.’ You’ve got to teach them now that he’s got to pick a side of that person in front of him and try to get as many yards as he can, not be lowering his head and trying to do it wrong.

This is a weird thing. The league is trying to improve player safety by changing a cornerstone of football. No longer will running backs be able to pop a defender in the chest and go through him. Defenders can’t put their head into an opponent’s chest to make tackles. It’s a different world than the one I’ve known. All summer long, players are going to have to learn how to play the game differently than they always have. It’s going to be a focal point during OTAs and training camp.

When players do lower their helmet, they will be charged fifteen yards. On especially egregious situations, the player will be ejected. When the player is ejected on the field, New York City will decide whether or not he stays gone. This is going to be such a mess. On top of that, players can be fined for these hits, and plays will be reviewed after games are completed. I really have no idea how this is going to look, but it’s going to take longer than a year to get guys playing differently and for the NFL to understand how to officiate it.

The second rule change is another step closer to removing kickoffs completely, which is something that breaks my heart. Damn, did I love watching Azir Hakim return 108 yard kickoffs for touchdowns. Kickoffs were pretty much killed when they moved the kickoff up, leading to the meekest kickers even getting touchbacks. Returns were usually the result of special teams coaches calling for high-risers so their kickoff team could force returns in an attempt to keep drives starting below the 25 yard line.

This rule change is impossible to explain with words, so just watch the video.

The NFL neutered the kickoff, and then they made it more complicated. The idea is to make the game safer. Football is never going to be a safe game. If you want to make it safer, just remove the kickoff, allow replay review and ejections on helmet-to-helmet defenseless receiver hits, get rid of Thursday Night Football, invest everything you can in concussion research, and learn how to treat players who suffer one. These rule changes are gilded noise.

The last rule change is the topic that will never go away. The NFL owners have decided on rules and punishment for when players kneel during the National Anthem. The NFL now requires players to stand during the anthem if they are on the field, but players can stay in the locker room if they want to. Teams whose employees protest the anthem can be fined by the NFL.

Roger Goodell had the following to say about the change:

We want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” commissioner Roger Goodell said. “We want people to stand -- that’s all personnel -- and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That’s something we think we owe. [But] we were also very sensitive to give players choices.

Head of the NFLPA DeMaurice Smith tweeted:

Management has chosen to quash the same freedom of speech that protects someone who wants to salute the flag in an effort to prevent someone who does not wish to do so. The sad irony of this rule is that anyone who wants to express their patriotism is subject to the whim of a person who calls himself an “Owner.” I know that not all of the NFL CEO’s are for this and I know that true American patriots are not cheering today.

This is an attempt at a compromise, and it isn’t going to make anyone happy. In 2018, people will still talk about kneeling. If the topic had escaped the public consciousness, it’s certainly back now with this rule change.

Football is going to happen in 2018; it just seems like it’s going to be a different game. With the change in head placement and the inevitable death of kickoffs, throughout it all, we will still hear all about protesting and who should stand for the National Anthem.