Commentary

NFL owners meetings preview

A look at nine items up for discussion that could shake up the 2012 season

Originally Published: March 25, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Normally, NFL owners are resistant to change.

So the surprise of the 2012 NFL owners meetings is some of the bold proposals being made. Replay decisions could switch from the referee on the field to the replay office in the booth. Booth replays on change-of-possession plays could be automatically reviewed. The two-possession overtime rule could go into effect during the regular season. The trade deadline could be moved to later in the regular season.

Starting Monday, NFL owners assemble at The Breakers Hotel in West Palm Beach, Fla., to decide if they want to keep the game the same or make some significant changes.

Here are nine items up for discussion that could shake up the 2012 season.

1. Two possessions in overtime: Some fans don't like the idea of sudden-death overtime -- particularly the idea that a thrilling game that is tied after four quarters can be won by a team that takes the opening kickoff in OT and kicks a field goal. The league did adopt a two-possession minimum in overtime for playoff games, but coaches complained they have to prepare for two different sets of overtime -- sudden death in the regular season and two possessions in the playoffs. Of all the teams, the Steelers, one of the biggest proponents of tradition, proposed taking the two-possession rule into the regular season. The sudden-death overtime rule was established to limit the number of ties, and the rule has worked beautifully through the years. The growing sentiment is leaning toward change. "The feeling was we made the change in the postseason to try to give us the fairest opportunity for those teams in the postseason," said Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee. "When we asked the Players Association this year, they endorsed doing it in the regular season. When we asked the coaches, they endorsed doing it in the regular season."

2. Instant replay, old-style: When instant replay came into the NFL, an official in the press box made the decisions. Some coaches didn't like the idea of retired officials who weren't used to making fast decisions controlling their fates on plays, so the league went to referees making the decision on the field and a coach's challenge system. The Buffalo Bills proposed going back to the old system and letting a replay official make all the rulings. Don't know if this one has the support.

3. Expanding replay: Last year, owners adopted a plan to have replay officials review every scoring play. The competition committee now wants to do the same for all change-of-possession plays. "We would use the same procedures for turnovers," McKay said. "That would be an expansion of the replay assistant's capabilities and take it out of the hands of the coaches." Coaches would still have the challenge system, unless the Bills' proposal passes.

4. Extending the trade deadline: This one is long overdue. Under the current rules, the trade deadline is six weeks into the regular season. Owners have been presented a proposal to take it to the eighth week of the regular season. The extra two weeks helps to determine the contenders from the pretenders. The pretenders might be able to trade for a future draft choice or two to make them better next season. The extra two weeks could give a playoff contender the chance to acquire a key starter to replace an injured player.

5. Going to a 90-man roster: Owners have been resistant to expanding the offseason roster from 80 to 90 players for years because they didn't like the extra cost. Now that we are in a time of labor peace, general managers are making their push to expand the rosters. Because of the salary cap, every signed player counts on the 80-man roster. At no time can a team go over 80. The Jacksonville Jaguars had so many players on the injured reserve list last year, they had to finish the season without a practice squad because of the roster limit. If the rule passes, there will be a reduction to 80 players after the third week of preseason. Then, prior to the regular season, there will be the normal reduction to 53.

6. Flexibility on the injured reserve list: Coaches hate losing a key player for the season. But what if a key starter suffers an eight-week injury? The competition committee proposes a change that could give a team a chance to designate one injured player a season in a category that allows him to return after eight weeks. That would give a team a chance to replace him for eight weeks and then get him back for the second half of the season. That one player would be listed as "designated for return."

7. A rule involving concussions: Safety, and particularly the prevention of concussions, are big topics under commissioner Roger Goodell. An independent doctor now has to clear players who have suffered concussions to be able to practice and play. Until that player is cleared, teams play and practice with less than a full roster. One rule proposal addresses that: If a player is diagnosed with a concussion, the team may have the chance to replace him. To do that, the player would have to miss one game. On the Friday before the next game, the player can be placed on the inactive list and a replacement can be signed.

8. Fixing the 12th-man rule: Remember how the Giants were flagged in the Super Bowl for having too many defenders on the field in the final minute, and the penalty worked against the Patriots? The Giants were penalized 5 yards, but the Patriots lost five critical seconds. The competition committee wants to go to the college rule and make such a play a dead-ball foul so the offensive teams don't lose the time.

9. No horsing around with Big Ben: The Steelers apparently are worried about horse-collar tackles on Ben Roethlisberger. Horse-collar tackles are 15-yard penalties unless they involve quarterbacks in the pocket. The Steelers proposed expanding the horse-collar rule to include quarterbacks in the pocket.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer