Bookmark this page. Save the image of the chart below. Throw it in your dropbox. Print and laminate. I guarantee you'll need to reference it, whatever your preservation method, at some point during the NFL's 2016 season.
The text embedded in this story is this year's version of the catch rule, as it appears on Page 31 in the recently-published Official Playing Rules of the National Football League. We've known for months the essence of what it would say, but seeing it in black and white signals a level of formality that compels commemoration.
As you might recall, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last fall convened a blue-ribbon panel to discuss the much-debated and often-confused rule. But even before the committee made a formal recommendation, league officials already had decided that no major overhaul was necessary. Instead, they revised the rule's wording (for the second consecutive year) and launched a public campaign to better explain the intent and limitations of the rule.
NFL coaches, convened for the league's owners meetings in March, joined in the angst. In a particularly entertaining rant, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh termed the rule "nefarious" and added: "[For] coaches and players, it's just as crazy as it is for the fans."
That's the backdrop for what NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent is referring to as a "three-step process" for determining a catch in 2016. You can see the wording in the text, but basically it goes like this:
1. Ball is secure.
2. Player is in bounds.
3. Receiver maintains control long enough to become a runner.
If the player goes to the ground before establishing as a runner -- i.e., in cases of Calvin Johnson in 2010 or Dez Bryant in the 2014 playoffs -- here is what the rule now says: "[He] must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete."
If I had to guess, confusion this year will remain centered on whether the receiver has established himself as a runner. It's the successor to "making a football move," a term expunged from the rule book, and its 2016 explanation is more detailed than it was in 2015. To become a runner in 2016, a receiver must have possession after his second foot hits the ground, and at that point he must be "capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps."
Even that detailed description requires a level of subjective judgment from officials, and plenty of gray area remains. In no way is this a simpler or more organic rule, even for those who have an open mind about the limitations of most alternatives. But those of you who hang on to this post will be able to judge with the same criteria handed to Ed Hochuli, Clete Blakeman, Jeff Triplette and the rest of the NFL's 124 referees and other officials. Enjoy.