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Offensive-line holding should be a point of emphasis; why cut to 75 now?

Finally, we are down to the final week of the preseason. A number of interesting things have happened this summer that cause me to think about the league, the players, opening night and where the league is headed.

1. Rash of flags. One frustrated GM who preferred to remain anonymous for obvious reasons made an interesting comment to me: "The preseason penalty situation is ridiculous, and I wonder what would happen if the league ever made offensive-line holding a point of emphasis?" It is a really good point, because the common assumption by most NFL people is that there is holding on every play but we live in a world of tolerating it. Some believe it's because offensive-line holding protects the quarterback in the passing game, others say we can't call it every play or the games would never end.

I decided to take a look at offensive-line holding calls and it was revealing and in some ways laughable. Does anyone believe there was only one holding infraction every 51 pass plays in the NFL last year? Of course not, and when you compound the 51 pass plays by only the five offensive linemen and not even factor in the tight ends or running backs involved in pass protection, it equates to the reality that 255 offensive linemen pass blocked on those 51 pass plays and only one time in 255 pass pass blocks there was a holding call. That is laughable!

Here's a look at the last four years of offensive holding calls, and if the NFL ever decided to make it a "point of emphasis" there would be a big change in the frequency of calls. Keep in mind there were 4,782 sacks during the past four years, and of course there were no holding calls on any of those plays. Right!

YEARPass plays calledHolding callsHolding calls per pass play
201320,7264051:51
201220,1264531:44
201119,7864311:46
201019,5294311:45

Pass plays have gone up each of the past three years. There were 1,200 more pass plays in the 2013 season than in 2010, but holding is supposedly down or at least it's not a point of emphasis. It's probably true that illegal contact by defensive players was underofficiated last year (37 calls in 256 games) but it has been called over 60 times in three weeks of preseason football this year, which should clean up some of the issues. But there are a lot of defensive coaches who wonder when offensive holding will be a point of emphasis. My answer is: don't count on it ever happening.

2. Cuts and roster size. I have two questions with NFL rosters: The first is why not have a 50-man game-day roster, and the second is why have a cut to 75 at this point in the summer?

I was recently told by a member of the league office that there wasn't much interest in increasing the game-day roster. I was puzzled by that since six different owners told me they were interested in an expanded game-day roster. The concussion protocol alone is a reason to raise the game-day roster in order to protect players who feel they have to go back in games because "there's no one else who can play." The increase of the practice squad from 8 to 10 players is a good thing, but it doesn't solve the game-day problems. One owner who favored an increase in the game-day roster also added he would like to make eight offensive linemen a mandatory part of the increase.

In regards to the massive cuts around the league right now, which could easily be over 400 players, it is still a mystery to me why we cut rosters down to 75 players this week with one preseason game left. Did we see all the injuries in Week 3? Did we forget teams do not want to play their starters in the final preseason game? Why not keep all 90 players if a team elects to, and give the players deep on the roster one more chance to make the team or at least protect the starters from having to play? Cutting players before the final cut next week should be optional for teams.

One personnel man said to me "it gives the released players an early chance to catch on with another team." I chuckled and said I was in the league for 10 years and I rarely got a coach to claim a player with three days to go before the fourth preseason game.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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