Anthony Barr didn't get penalized for the hit that broke Aaron Rodgers' collarbone last season, but if he were to make that same hit in 2018, the Vikings linebacker would be subject to a 15-yard penalty.
That's the word from NFL referee Pete Morelli, who was in Minnesota on Thursday to talk to the media about some minor rule changes that will apply to the upcoming season. Since the Rodgers injury happened in Minnesota, it quickly became a topic of conversation.
The reason Barr's hit would be a penalty this year is because the linebacker came down directly on top of Rodgers. According to Morelli, defenders will need to avoid doing that in 2018 or risk being called for a roughing the passer penalty.
"Players will have to kind of roll to the side when they make that tackle instead of plopping down on him (the quarterback)," Morelli said, via ESPN.com. "The Aaron Rodgers [hit] would be a foul this year. As long as he's out of the pocket, established and all that. But if he's running, that's not the same."
Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone last season after Barr laid him out during the first quarter of Minnesota's 23-10 Week 6 win over the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. After making the hit, Barr came down squarely on top of Rodgers, as you can see below.
The hit ended up causing Rodgers to miss eight weeks and effectively ended the Packers' season.
For Vikings fans screaming that Rodgers was out of the pocket, which would make the hit legal, that won't necessarily matter this year. Even if the quarterback is out of the pocket, a defensive player can still be penalized for their hit if the ref believes the quarterback is in a defenseless position, such as when they're getting ready to throw the ball.
"If you roll out and get set up, you're still a passer," Morelli said. "But if you're rolling out and throwing and a guy's chasing you and tackles you, you're not defenseless. They get two steps and they can tackle you. Becoming defenseless is setting up again outside the pocket."
The NFL made only a slight tweak to the rulebook to make the new change possible. As noted by Pro Football Talk, the rule used to say "when tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down AND land on top of him with all or most of the defender's weight."
The rule now gets rid of that bolded "AND" above and puts in an "OR."
"When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down OR land on top of him with all or most of the defender's weight."
Basically, a defensive player had to do two things to get penalized in the past: Throw a player down AND land on top of them with most of their body weight. However, with the new rule, they'll be flagged if they throw a player down OR land on top of them with most of their body weight.