PHOENIX -- For the first time, the NFL's ongoing efforts to emphasize player safety have targeted offensive players. Owners are set to vote on two rule proposals this week that restrict potentially dangerous acts by offensive linemen and running backs. And in the latter case, at least, you can expect the running backs to fight back.
Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte is the first active running back that I'm aware of to take a strong stance against the applicable proposed rule, which would penalize backs 15 yards for lowering their heads and initiating "forcible contact" with the top/crown of the helmet. League officials have said they would instruct officials to call only the most obvious examples, but Sunday morning, Forte tweeted:
"The proposed rule change for running backs might be the most absurd suggestion of a rule change I've ever heard of. In order to lower ur shoulder u obviously have to lower ur head. It's a way of protecting ur self from a tackler and a way to break tackles. U can't change the instinctive nature of running the football."
What Forte wrote makes a lot of rational sense. I look forward to hearing from other prominent running backs as well, including the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson, but my informed guess is that their breath will be wasted.
I ran into a few team officials Sunday morning as they began gathering at the Biltmore hotel, and they expressed varying opinions about whether the rule will pass. My feeling on these issues hasn't changed. Whenever the NFL attaches player safety to a proposed rule change, as it did two years ago when it altered kickoffs, the rule usually passes in some form, even if it is tweaked a bit.
Player safety rule changes are as important to the outside perception of the league as they are to actually increasing player safety. Rejecting those efforts by dismissing a rule change would send a mixed message about the league's intent. I don't think the league wants to do that. More to come, I'm sure.