Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Player safety 'overrode our concerns'
By Kevin Seifert
PHOENIX -- Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte called it "absurd." Leslie Frazier worried that his MVP running back would be subjected to an increasing number of hits to his knee. The NFC North generated as much opposition to the NFL's proposed crown-to-helmet penalty as any other division, but in the end -- as we discussed Sunday -- the nebulous "player safety" tag has once again carried the day.
All four NFC North teams voted for a rule that passed overwhelmingly Wednesday. Frazier and the Vikings produced a notable about-face; Frazier had reiterated concerns as recently as an hour before the vote, during the NFC coaches breakfast here at the NFL owners meeting. After the vote, however, Frazier said: "The overriding factor regarding player safety kind of overrode [our] concerns."
Look, we all know what happened here. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made player safety a priority, both for the long-term health of players and the long-term viability of the game. Creating "safer" rules puts those efforts in writing and creates a paper trail, in both a practical and legal sense. I'm pretty sure the NFL doesn't want coaches or other employees publicly questioning its efforts to do so, regardless of the issues at play. The league is making a macro movement in spite of whatever micro issues it might cause.
The rule makes sense in the abstract -- a player shouldn't be allowed to, as the rule is worded, "deliver a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent" -- but there are practical ramifications that make you wonder how it will be enforced.
Forte noted that running backs naturally lower their shoulders to protect themselves from contact and to break tackles. As a result, the head lowers as well. Will officials recognize the difference between that and an intentional lowering of the head to initiate contact? Frazier wondered if defensive players would go low on tailback Adrian Peterson to avoid the 15-yard penalty of hitting his helmet with theirs.
In the end, those issues won't dissipate. We'll probably have some questionable calls to discuss this season. But go ahead and book it: Anytime a rule change is attached to "player safety," its chances of passing is excellent. It's a sign of our times.