The tuck rule could disappear from NFL games if owners approve a proposal from the competition committee to dump it.
The owners, who meet next week in Phoenix, also will consider a change to instant replay rules allowing for a video review even when a coach makes an illegal challenge.
Under the tuck rule, if a passer is in the act of bringing the ball down into his body rather than throwing it and loses control, it is ruled an incomplete pass. The proposal under consideration would make it a fumble.
Competition Committee co-chairman Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons, noted the controversial history of the tuck rule Thursday. He said the change has full support from on-field officials, particularly now that all turnovers are automatically reviewed.
"What is happening is a great majority of these plays are appropriately called fumbles," McKay said on a conference call. "Then officials go into replay and look at it, and under the rule if the tuck had not been completed (the call) has to be reversed from ... a fumble. They think they can call it and can understand when a passer has lost control of the ball, so we felt more comfortable proposing the rule."
The rule was among the NFL's most obscure until it became infamous during the 2001 playoffs in New England, when Tom Brady apparently lost a fumble late in a game against Oakland. Initially ruled a fumble, it was reversed under the tuck rule, the Patriots kept the ball and eventually beat the Raiders.
Replay also plays a key role in another potential rule change.
Last Thanksgiving, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz challenged what officials ruled was an 81-yard scoring run by Houston's Justin Forsett. Because all scoring plays are reviewed, Schwartz was not allowed to throw the red flag, and by doing so he negated use of replay. Forsett clearly had been down by contact earlier in the run, but the touchdown stood and the Texans went on to win in overtime.
McKay called the way the rule stood "an anomaly."
The proposal will ensure the play is reviewed and the right call is made, but the coach making the illegal challenge will draw a 15-yard penalty. Forbidden challenges occur when a team is out of timeouts; has used up its challenges; in the final two minutes of a half; in overtime; or on scoring plays or turnovers.
Should a coach challenge in the final two minutes of halves or in OT, he will lose a timeout as well as have his team penalized 15 yards.
Three player safety rule changes will be proposed:
- Initiating contact with the crown of the helmet would be a foul if a tackler or a runner does it when both players are outside the tackle box. Incidental contact with the crown of the helmet would not be a penalty.
"This is pure and simple a player safety rule," McKay said. "The time has come we need to address the situation. You can't duck your head and deliver a forcible blow with your helmet."
Doing so will result in a 15-yard penalty.
"We're looking for the obvious fouls on this one," he added. "We realize this is a major change for players and coaches."
- No longer could offensive players make a low block when facing their own end zone and they are inside the tackle box. That will prohibit so-called peel-back blocks anywhere on the field.
- Teams couldn't line up more than six players on either side of the snapper for field goals and extra points. And teammates couldn't be pushed through gaps in the protection on those kicks.
"Teams will still have opportunities to overload and affect a kick and still potentially block those kicks," said Rams coach Jeff Fisher, another co-chairman of the committee.
Next season, players will be required to wear knee and thigh pads. Ray Anderson, who as the league's executive vice president of football operations will oversee enforcement, said the NFL will be vigorous in ensuring players use them, beginning in the preseason.
Many players, particularly in skill positions, have fought the extra padding, saying it slows them down.
Anderson said the league office will be more proactive in making sure fields are suitable for games. He did not cite specifics, but the Washington Redskins were heavily criticized for the condition of their field for their wild-card game against Seattle. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons both hurt their knees during that game.
One other proposal will allow teams to keep players on the physically unable to perform list through Week 11 instead of Week 9.
McKay added that scoring in 2012 was the highest since 1965 at 45.5 points per game and fourth highest in league history.