ORLANDO, Fla. -- NFL owners unanimously approved a new catch rule Tuesday, a change designed specifically to avoid a handful of controversies that have vexed the league for most of this decade.
Owners also approved two other rule changes, granting authority to senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron to eject players for non-football acts -- even if it means overruling on-field referees -- and making permanent a temporary rule that put touchbacks after kickoffs at the 25-yard line.
Michael Signora, NFL vice president of football communications, tweeted out the approved rules and bylaws:
— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) March 27, 2018
The catch rule, proposed by the league's competition committee at the behest of commissioner Roger Goodell, will eliminate the requirement to maintain control of the ball throughout the process of going to the ground. Instead, it will define a catch with a simpler three-step process: A receiver must control the ball, establish himself in bounds and perform a football move such as taking a third step or lunging with the ball in hand.
Most important to the league, the change means that plays such as those involving Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson (2010) and Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (2014) will be ruled catches in the future.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James, who had a touchdown overturned in the final seconds of a December loss to the New England Patriots because he didn't "survive the ground," applauded the rule change.
"It should have been a touchdown either way," James told Steelers.com. "Whether it was the old rule, or this new rule. To reverse something on review, it has to be clear cut. I feel like they didn't do a good job on that. It's nice to have the rule clearer."
Riveron said earlier this week that "we've basically rewritten the rule." Even so, the change is not likely to eliminate all controversies surrounding the catch. Former NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino suggested earlier this month to expect a swap of debates.
"If the receiver performs an act common to the game," Blandino said, "if he performs a football move, whatever you want to call it, on the way to the ground, if you say that supersedes him having to hold the ball all the way to the ground, then that adds another layer of judgment for the official and in replay.
"You're just shifting the debate from, 'Was he going to the ground and did he hold on to it?' to 'Did he make a football move?'"
The rule to allow in-game ejections from the league's officiating office was designed to address egregious hits last season by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans in separate incidents.
Both were penalized 15 yards, but referees declined to eject them. Referees will retain the authority to eject players as necessary.
The New York Jets, meanwhile, withdrew a proposal to make all defensive pass interference penalties 15 yards.