NFL approves safety-based changes

ORLANDO, Fla. -- NFL players should be safer during games thanks to several rules changes passed at the league meetings.

They also might be playing longer in regular-season overtimes.

The NFL passed rules Wednesday to further protect defenseless players, including ball carriers who lose their helmet during a play. Seven of eight overall rules proposals were adopted, and several owners said they also expect the modified overtime rule for the playoffs that passed Tuesday to be revisited in May to include the regular season.

"It's a better system, so why not have a better system every game?" Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said of expanding the new OT rule, which allows a team that loses the coin toss and gives up a field goal on the first series to then get a possession.

New York Giants owner John Mara added he expects discussion and possibly a vote at the May owners meetings in Dallas. The change was proposed only for the postseason by the competition committee and was passed 28-4 Tuesday.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league wants to meet with the players and the networks for some input and further discuss the ramifications of expanding the OT change.

"We had a proposal for the postseason, we passed that with the understanding that it'll be discussed for the regular season," he said.

Goodell also mentioned scheduling only intradivision games on the final weekend of the season, and placing many such games in Week 16, as well. He said at the end of last season he was concerned about teams not playing their regulars after clinching titles, and is hopeful such scheduling would help avoid that.

The 2010 schedule will be released in April.

The key rules change for player safety bars a defenseless player from being hit in the head or neck area by an opponent who launches himself and uses his helmet, shoulder or forearm to make contact. Previously, those kinds of tackles were banned against receivers who couldn't protect themselves, but now it will apply to everyone.

"These are very specific to very vulnerable moments in the game," Lurie said. "There's no reason not to protect these players. There's a history of potentially serious injuries in these types of collisions."

NFL rules also now will echo those in college when a player running with the ball loses his helmet. The whistle will blow immediately and the ball will be placed at the "progress spot" where the helmet came off.

The umpire will be stationed behind the offensive backfield rather than in the linebackers area, after the competition committee saw "a hundred" examples of umpires being run over.

Also passed Wednesday:

• During a field goal or extra point attempt, the defensive team can't position any player on the line directly across from the snapper. Previously, a player needed to have his helmet outside the snapper's shoulder pads.

• A dead ball personal foul on the final play of the second or fourth quarters will cause a 15-yard penalty on the second half or overtime kickoff. Previously in those situations, no penalty was enforced, although players subsequently could be fined by Goodell.

• If a punt returner makes a fair catch signal and muffs the ball, he is entitled to "reasonable opportunity" to catch the muff before it hits the ground without interference from the coverage team. The ball will be awarded at the spot of the interference, but there will be no penalty yardage marked off.

• When a ball strikes a videoboard (as one punt did last preseason at the new Cowboys Stadium), guide wire or sky cam, the play is whistled dead and replayed. The game clock is reset to when that play started.

The replay judge will be allowed to initiate a review if he believes there was some sort of interference with the ball. This is the only case outside of the final two minutes of the second and fourth quarters and overtime that the booth can order a replay.

Coaches also can challenge whether there was interference with the ball.

• If the clock is stopped in the final minute of either half for a replay review, but would not have stopped without the review, officials will run off 10 seconds before resuming play. Either team could take a timeout to void the 10-second runoff.