The NFL’s competition committee issued a narrow clarification Wednesday to its controversial helmet rule but made no substantive alterations during a previously scheduled conference call.
According to a statement released by NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent, the committee resolved “that there will be no changes to the rule as approved by clubs this spring, which includes no additional use of instant replay.” But Vincent added, “The committee also determined that inadvertent or incidental contact with the helmet and/or face mask is not a foul.”
— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) August 22, 2018
The rule, as passed by owners and published in the NFL rulebook, states: “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.” The wording does not specify the degree of contact required, and it limits the use of replay to reviewing ejections as a result of the rule.
In seeking feedback from around the league, the committee heard that players were concerned about instances in which they were unable to avoid glancing contact with their helmets as they made shoulder or arm tackles. Officials also wondered whether they were expected to penalize every instance of contact from a lowered helmet, no matter how mild.
The implementation of the NFL’s new helmet rule this preseason has drawn criticism from players and coaches, including the Vikings’ Mike Zimmer, who believes “it’s going to cost some people some jobs — playoffs, jobs, the whole bit I’m guessing.”
The committee never intended to penalize such contact, and at first believed that the word “initiate” would draw a clear distinction between full and incidental contact.
NFL owners adopted the rule in March after a presentation from its health and safety office showed that the helmet-lowering posture was a key factor in causing concussions and spine injuries in recent years. Officials have penalized players for it 51 times in 33 preseason games, an average of 1.55 times per game, amid a chorus of complaints about its efficacy and practicality.
A source told ESPN’s Dan Graziano that on a conference call to discuss the rule Wednesday, the league said that 11 of the 51 calls made so far were erroneous.
Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said Wednesday he is hoping officials are calling it more vigilantly during the preseason than they will be during the regular season. He thinks he’s less affected by it than other defenders because he tends to keep his head out of tackles.
“But when you see some of the hits that you’re seeing that are getting flagged, it makes you wonder, like, what are we supposed to do?” he said. “I think I said it before, you’re gonna have to figure it out because you can’t just keep giving the offense the benefit of the doubt. We’re trying to stop them from scoring, and if he leads with his head, what are we supposed to do? That’s the only thing we’re left to hit. So I think they’re working it out. Hopefully they figure it out. I think we as defensive players have always done a great job of adjusting. So I’m not too worried about it, I’m not thinking about it, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking about it if I get a fine.”
In a series of tweets last weekend, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman wrote in part: “There is no ‘make adjustment’ to the way you tackle. Even in a perfect form tackle the body is led by the head. The rule is idiotic [a]nd should be dismissed immediately.” He continued to talk about the rule Wednesday.
“That’s what the NFL is known for, that’s what our league is known for, doing something that takes attention away from the game,” Sherman said. “The game has actually been played great. But the catch rule, this helmet thing, I mean, it’s what we do. “
Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, who also has been outspoken about the rule, said Wednesday that it’s more confusing to him after some preseason games have been played.
“Yeah because some of the guys, they led with their shoulder pads. They actually pointed to their pads like this is it, I still got called because my head is in there … I don’t know man, it’s tough. It’s their job and it’s ours as well. It’s their job, it’s our money,” he said.
Los Angeles Rams veteran cornerback Aqib Talib had said earlier in camp that he was OK with the new rule because it made the game safer. But Wednesday, he noted it was “going to be tough” for some players.
“They’re calling a lot of stuff right now,” said Tailb, who will play in his first preseason game with the Rams on Saturday. “But I think like every year, when they implement a new rule or they’re going to focus on a new rule, they overdo it in the preseason and then once the season starts they kind of get it together. Just going on how the last few years been, I think it will calm down during the season. It won’t be as crazy as the preseason has been.”
The NFL is planning to update training videos and continue distributing them to players and coaches through the summer. The videos depict, among other things, examples of fouls and instances of incorrect calls.
ESPN’s Brady Henderson, Nick Wagoner, John Keim and Lindsey Thiry contributed to this report.