PHOENIX -- NFL owners zipped through their agenda this week at their annual meetings, wrapping up discussions a full day earlier than planned. The Oakland Raiders' relocation to Las Vegas carried the headlines, but a few important, visible rule changes were approved in a flurry of action Tuesday.
Let's take a closer look at them, along with two others that were tabled but are likely to be settled before the start of training camp this summer.
New rule: Unsportsmanlike conduct/leaping
What it means: This change outlaws the emerging strategy to leap over the line of scrimmage to block extra point attempts or field goal attempts. There were three such blocks last season before teams adjusted and put the leaper in jeopardy of being flipped in the air and landing awkwardly. Players, coaches and the league all considered it a safety risk. As much fun as it is to watch the play unfold, I can't disagree with this decision. Teams will have to find a new way to defeat special-teams blocking schemes.
New rule: Intentional fouls/unsportsmanlike conduct
What it means: Teams will now be penalized 15 yards, and the game clock will be restored, if they commit multiple fouls on the same play in an effort to manipulate the game clock. This seemingly obscure change is directed at a strategy employed by the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens last season, as well as by the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. The 49ers, for example, committed defensive holding on every New Orleans Saints receiver they were defending on one play during a two-minute drill, leaving quarterback Drew Brees without a viable target. The 49ers gladly traded a 5-yard penalty for valuable time drained off the clock. I'm sad but not surprised to see this one go. NFL teams rarely employ non-traditional strategies, and this certainly was a good one. But generally speaking, teams shouldn't be rewarded for breaking the rules.
New rule: Stronger enforcement of penalties for "very egregious" hits
What it means: The competition committee identified a handful of plays from the 2016 season that included hits so violent and so counter to existing rules that it wanted them "out of our game," according to chairman Rich McKay. Referees already were empowered to eject players who committed those acts, and they will be encouraged to use that authority. If they don't, the committee is recommending that the player be suspended for his next game even if it is a first offense. No rules will change, but it will be a point of emphasis. The league believes the issue will only arise a few times per season. I'm not so sure. Points of emphasis usually bring heavy-handed enforcement, especially early in the season. This is one to keep an eye on in September.
New rule: Centralized replay review
What it means: The final say on replay reviews and challenges now belongs to senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and his supervisory crew, who will work from the league's New York command center. Referees will participate in the conversation via wireless headsets and a video tablet rather than the previous sideline "hood." This change makes perfect sense and in reality is a formalization of a practice that had been in development since the command center was established in 2014. It will maximize consistency and efficiency. The competition committee estimates that quicker review turnarounds could shave up to 1 1/2 minutes per game.
Possible new rule: Overtime shortened to 10 minutes
What it means: This proposal was tabled for discussion later this spring. The idea is to limit the amount of additional snaps players are exposed to. In 2016, there were six overtime games in which the extra period lasted more than 10 minutes, the second-highest single-season total in NFL history. (The record is seven, set in 2002, according to ESPN Stats & Information.) Ravens coach John Harbaugh said it is "really a competitive disadvantage" for a team to play close to a full overtime period, because it in theory will leave them less rested than its next opponent. I don't doubt that, and every minute of rest helps. There is also some understandable concern about an uptick in ties. But in the end, this measure feels like a low-impact change. If the NFL is concerned about players' recovery time between games, it should start with the elephant in that room: Thursday night football.
Possible new rule: Tweak in anti-celebration rules
What it means: Initially, it appeared the league would "encourage" referees to interpret current rules more leniently and then distribute a video to help players understand the difference between legal and illegal penalties. Now, commissioner Roger Goodell wants to meet with a group of players before deciding how to verbalize the new approach. Regardless, this effort was long overdue. There were only 30 such penalties last season, out of a total of 40,000 plays. But they have risen sharply in recent years; there were three during the entire 2012 season. They also sparked an outsized public reaction while cementing the "No Fun League" narrative. The NFL wants celebrations to be sportsmanlike and not provocative to opponents, which in reality describes almost all of what we see after scores.