Richard Sherman on NFL's confusing new targeting rule: 'It's going to be a disaster'

In theory, the NFL's new helmet rule was intended to make the game safer. Everyone agrees that's a good thing. In implementation, however, confusion has been the overarching theme.

Earlier this week, Eagles players were "frustrated" after meeting with NFL referees to get some clarity on what amounts to a version of college football's targeting rule, one that also includes ejections.

"We were trying to ask questions to get a better understanding, and yet they couldn't really give us an answer," Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "They couldn't give us what we were looking for."

That's not good.

49ers cornerback Richard Sherman was less diplomatic when asked about the rule that was instituted this offseason.

"It's ridiculous," Sherman told USAToday.com's Jarrett Bell. "They'll see how ridiculous it is, once they make the refs call it. It's going to be worse than holding, worse than the catch rule. On a good form tackle, guys will lead with their shoulder pads, but you bring your head. It's going to be a disaster."

And Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger thinks the rule will have unintended consequences that could also lead to injuries.

"They want us to, I guess, hit with our shoulder," he said, via ESPN.com. "I guess not hit a guy when he ducks. So I guess we just gotta aim for the knees. That's the only way I know how. If you don't want me to hit you, then I guess it's the only way, the only way."

If this sounds familiar, it should; four years ago, Swearinger, then with the Texans, was involved in a controversial-but-legal low tackle during a preseason game against the Jets. Tight end Dustin Keller suffered a serious knee injury on a hit that ended his career.

"With the rules in this era you've got to hit low," Swearinger said at the time. "If I would have hit him high, I would have gotten a fine. So I think I made the smartest play. I'm sorry it happened and I pray he has a speedy recovery. ... Right now it's just instinct. You see somebody come across the middle, you gotta go low. You're going to cost your team 15 yards. You've got to play within the rules."

At the time, the NFL was trying to reduce head injuries by making above-the-shoulder hits a personal-foul penalty. The new targeting rule adds another layer of punishment, in the form of an ejection -- and, it looks like, confusion. Which brings us back to the Eagles' recent meeting with referees.

According to ESPN.com's Tim McManus, players showed a clip of safety Malcolm Jenkins' hit on wide receiver Brandin Cooks during Super Bowl LII that knocked Cooks out of the game. At the time, it was a legal play. When asked if that constituted a violation under the new rules, the referees were split on whether they would have thrown a flag.

"[The refs] were kind of like, 'Hey, we didn't make the rules.' Because I think guys were kind of frustrated," Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood said. "Most of the defense was like, 'Man, how are we supposed to tackle?' They were frustrated."

Unless there's further clarification in the coming weeks, things will get worse before they get better. Silver lining: Hey, at least we're not talking about the anthem issues.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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