- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Four quick thoughts on the NFL's latest rules changes addressing player safety:
The changes attack the culture. Previous changes have emphasized specific rules. These changes seek to address the broader culture that encourages such hits even when in violation of the rules. I'm not sure whether fining teams will make a huge difference, but if the commissioner is serious about going so far as to strip teams of draft choices, you can bet coaches will focus on playing within the rules. The old-school attitude will resist these changes, but if the greater emphasis leads to improved tackling at the expense of reckless hitting, everyone wins. I just have a hard time believing the league would actually take away draft choices.
The rules themselves make sense. Reasonable protections for defenseless players are good for all. These latest changes sound reasonable. Players should not be able to launch themselves forward and upward to use their helmets as weapons against other players' helmets. Receivers who have not had time to protect themselves after making receptions should not have to worry about defenders hitting them in the head or neck area with helmets, facemasks, forearms or shoulders. Football will remain a collision sport. These rules will not make it otherwise.
Motives are secondary. The labor situation invites skepticism as to the NFL's intentions. The league stands to gain politically by pushing for measures to protect players. These changes cost the league nothing while allowing owners to claim they're looking out for players, even as they lock them out. These changes also put owners in better position to say they've been proactive should a player die from injuries suffered on the field. Players' skepticism is justified, but if the changes make sense, motives matter less.
Huge hits are fun to watch. I'll admit to enjoying those old clips showing Dick "Night Train" Lane nearly decapitating opponents with tactics that would draw suspensions in the current game (go to the 2:40 mark of this video for evidence, and watch the clip at 4:50 in particular). I'll agree with Deacon Jones when he says he could not be himself under the current rules. Hard-nosed defensive players would not be hard-nosed defensive players if they didn't grumble every time the league tried to legislate violence from the game. Defensive players should be frustrated every time the NFL makes changes benefiting their offensive counterparts. The issue, however, is to what degree the NFL should allow unnecessary, violent hits to the head and neck amid mounting evidence of the long-term consequences.