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NFL owners reject proposal to make roughing the passer penalties reviewable

The NFL's much-discussed standard for roughing the passer will remain as is for 2023.

The league's owners rejected a proposal to make roughing the passer penalties reviewable Tuesday during the Annual League Meeting in Phoenix.

The proposal, brought forth by the Los Angeles Rams, was one of nine submitted by clubs as part of an annual discussion regarding possible rule changes. The most notable approved change regarded jersey numbers, allowing certain players to wear zero as a numeral in 2023.

The Rams' proposal on roughing the passer was not expected to receive support from the league's Competition Committee, per NFL Network's Judy Battista, who reported in late February the committee reviewed more than 80 examples of roughing the passer penalties and found just three that the group deemed questionable.

The league also has precedent to reference when it comes to expanding replay to include penalties. In 2019, the NFL approved a proposal making pass interference reviewable in what was a result of a missed pass interference call that had an impact on the outcome of the 2018 season's NFC Championship Game between the Saints and Rams.

One year of reviewing pass interference was enough for the league, which struggled to find consistency in ruling on reviews of penalties in what is often a judgment call. The league eliminated the ability to review pass interference in 2020 and hasn't considered restoring it since.

Roughing the passer has received increased attention from the NFL in recent seasons, increasing scrutiny on contact made with quarterbacks and making the job of taking down a quarterback much more difficult for defenders. The Rams' proposal was not surprising, considering the debates roughing the passer has inspired, but ultimately, the league deemed a rule change unnecessary.

A number of other notable proposals submitted by clubs were either rejected or tabled in Phoenix. A proposal to spot the ball at the 25-yard line on a touchback on a punt, and to have the ball spotted at the 25 on a fair catch made on a kickoff inside the 25 were tabled until May. So too was Detroit's proposal to bring back a roster allowance for a third quarterback, per McKay.

"I would say there wasn't, you know, I think, by large, people understand that if you go down the path of starting to review penalties and don't just look at our DPI experiment -- one-year experiment -- but penalties in general, there's a lot of issues that go into it," NFL Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay said during a Tuesday news conference. "It is a dramatic and almost drastic change of officiating. Taking it from the field and taking it up to the booth. You know, it wasn't a long discussion and then we voted and it did not pass."

Detroit also withdrew its proposal to make all personal fouls subject to coach's challenges, per Pelissero, eliminating any chance for expansion of replay review in 2023.

An interesting proposal -- inspired by secondary professional spring leagues -- dealing with onside kicks was also submitted by the Eagles, but was tabled in Phoenix. Philadelphia proposed to create a fourth-and-20 alternative to an onside kick, a down played from a team's own territory with the chance to retain possession instead of attempting an increasingly unlikely onside kick.

McKay explained Tuesday why the committee tabled the proposal.

"OK, so I'll go to the onside kick alternative, which is fourth-and-20 proposed by Philly. You know, as a committee, it did not have a lot of support," McKay said. "I happen to be one of those that does support the discussion of it. We did a lot of, in the report, there's some analytics behind it, and we tried to show the analytics. But I'd say overall, there's just not an appetite yet to have the onside go away.

"I think what people would rather talk about is alternatives to trying to get the rate of recovery up. Historically, we've tried to live in that 13%, you know, 14% range. We don't want to go higher than that because, you know, you don't want to award the team that's behind. But that has been a target of ours and the number, this year, was down to 4%. Lowest ever, and that generated Philly's proposal.

"I would say there's some other things to talk about to try to make it, to get the success rate up. Limiting players in the set-up zone, but for now, the play will be as it is, as it was last year."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was also asked about the current onside kick format versus the failed fourth-and-20 proposal during his news conference to close the Annual League Meeting.

"The competition committee talked a great deal about this," Goodell said. "About keeping what they say, 'the foot in the game.' I think that's an element of the game that is interesting. As you know, going back to the extra point, I think we look at all plays and want to have some excitement related to it as well as health and safety factors. I think our success rate is three 3% this year. That's exceptionally low.

"I think one of the discussions we had through the competition committee and on the floor today is, that's an important play. It can be a very exciting play. And looking at alternatives to try to bring that back. Fourth-and-20 is one element. It's obviously not a kick, but certainly could be an exciting alternative. But at the end of the day, they tabled that."

The NFL continues to push for innovation and changes in its rulebook, especially when it benefits the league's persistent effort to improve player safety. As it stands now, the 2023 season won't include much in the way of change. That could change in May.

2023 Approved Playing Rules Summary

  • By Philadelphia; amends Rule 5, Section 1, Article 2, to permit the use of zero ("0") as a jersey numeral; to allow kickers and punters to use any jersey numeral between 0-49 and 90-99.
  • By Los Angeles Chargers; amends Rule 4, Section 6, Article 3 and Section 7, Article 4, to make the adjustment of the play clock following an Instant Replay reversal consistent with other timing rules.
  • By Houston; amends Rule 15, Section 1, Article 2, to expand the Replay Official's jurisdiction to allow for review on failed fourth down attempts.
  • By Competition Committee; to change the definition of a launch to leaving one or both feet.
  • By Competition Committee; to make the penalty for tripping a personal foul.
  • By Competition Committee; to make the penalty for illegally handing the ball forward consistent with other illegal acts, such as illegal forward passes.
  • By Competition Committee; to make the penalty for illegal punts, drop kicks, or placekicks consistent with other illegal acts, such as illegal forward passes.
  • By Competition Committee; to prevent the offense from benefitting by an extension of the half as a result of their foul.
  • By Competition Committee; to clarify use of the helmet against an opponent by removing the "butt, ram, spear" language from Article 8 and incorporating those actions into Impermissible Use of the Helmet.

2023 Approved Bylaws Summary

  • By Competition Committee; to change the claiming period to Monday for players who are waived on the Friday and Saturday of the last week of the regular season.
  • By Competition Committee; to insert Strength of Victory as the second tiebreaker for awarding contracts.
  • By Competition Committee; to adjust the rules for postseason signings to account for standard elevations rule; to freeze postseason rosters at 4:00 PM New York Time on the Wednesday following the last week of the regular season.

2023 Approved Resolutions Summary

  • By Buffalo; to make the regular season and postseason roster transaction deadlines the same; changes the transaction deadline for Saturday night postseason games to 4:00 p.m., New York time on Saturday.
  • By Los Angeles Chargers; to provide greater clarity as to a player's availability for a game.
  • By New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Carolina, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota, New York Jets, Philadelphia, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Washington; to establish one preseason roster reduction date and related procedures.

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