INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL competition committee left the scouting combine this week with a mandate to study and develop the concept of adding a "sky judge" to officiating crews, league executive vice president Troy Vincent said Friday.
There are many questions yet to be answered about the role and function of what would amount to an eighth member of the crew, and support among ownership and committee members is unclear. But the committee agreed to take on the analysis at the urging of coaches who want to minimize chances of clear and obvious mistakes going uncorrected.
The impetus, Vincent acknowledged, was a missed pass interference call that should have been called against Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game.
Describing the mandate given to the committee, Vincent said, "Is it time? Tell us, moving forward in the future of professional football, do we need to be looking at the mechanics? Are the [officials] in the right place? Do we need a sky judge? Do we need an eighth official, a ninth official? Does New York need to be more involved?
"Just coming out of the season, which was a phenomenal season from a competitive standpoint, you get your championship game, which takes the air out of it. May it be time? How do we prevent that? Understanding that officials, [will make mistakes on] judgment calls, that will happen. But how do we minimize it?"
Speaking earlier in the week, multiple members of the committee reacted with skepticism when asked about expanding replay in response to the missed call on Robey-Coleman. They were slightly less doubtful about a sky judge, who would be considered part of the officiating crew and not the replay apparatus.
Vincent said everyone in the league is "adamant" that they want to keep as much of the administration of the game "in the stadium" as opposed to a replay system where officials in New York have final say.
The addition of a sky judge would require approval of 24 owners.
New York Giants co-owner John Mara, one of the committee members, said he didn't think there would be enough support among owners but added: "That could change. I'm not saying it's impossible."
A sky judge, used in the Canadian Football League, would sit in the press box and be authorized to assist officials with calls on the field.
Vincent said the authority and viability of an NFL sky judge would need to be hashed out along three major lines:
• Whether it would participate in the entire game or, perhaps, the last few minutes of each half.
• The type of calls it would be eligible to influence. (Vincent said that pass interference and player safety rules would be a starting point).
• If there are enough qualified candidates, currently outside the league, to hire into the jobs.
Vincent and the committee will meet later this month in preparation for the March 24-27 owners meetings in Phoenix. It's possible the committee will be prepared to make a recommendation for those meetings, but in recent years, discussions on major rule changes have been extended to spring meetings at the end of May.
The committee could determine that the league is not equipped, either from a logistical or philosophical standpoint, to handle the addition of a sky judge, Vincent said. But with so many of its coaches advocating for additional ways to avoid major mistakes, the committee is obligated to consider it.
In other league news:
• The punt became the most dangerous play in the game in 2018 after rule changes dropped concussions on kickoffs by 35 percent.
The NFL's health and safety department found that many injuries on punts can be traced to blindside blocks, and Vincent said it is likely that the league will outlaw all blindside blocks on all plays for 2019. Currently, only blindside blocks to the head or neck area are prohibited by the rules.
In 2018, punts accounted for 10 percent of all NFL injuries despite representing only a small portion of the overall plays in a game.
• Vincent said there would be more enforcement on the helmet rule in 2019.
Officials called only 19 such penalties during the 2018 regular season, but the league office issued 28 fines and 139 warning letters.
Vincent said he believes officials will be more accustomed to spotting violators of the rule, which prohibits lowering the helmet to initiate contact with an opponent.
"We will get better," Vincent said. "Like it was for the defenseless player, that process, we will get better. Now that we know what we're looking for, what we've learned over the past year."