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A closer look at the 11 proposed changes to the NFL’s 2021 Playing Rules

Different jersey numbers for players, a new overtime format, onside kicks no more, and a “Sky Judge” type of official among the proposed changes.

Chicago Bears v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

There are 11 proposed rule changes for the NFL’s 2021 season that teams will vote on at the upcoming owners’ meetings, at which time 75% (24/32) of the owners need to favor the change for the proposal to pass.

There were 4 changes proposed by the Competition Committee, and 7 proposed by a few teams, including one amended rule proposed by the Chicago Bears. Some of the rules are self explanatory, but for the ones that aren’t I’ll give my Cliff Notes take. Here’s a link to the 2020 rules in case you were wondering.

Here are the 4 rules proposed by the Competition Committee

1. To amend Rule 16, to eliminate overtime in the preseason.

Duh, preseason OT is silly.

2. To amend Rule 6, Section 1, Article 3, for one year only, to establish a maximum number of players in the setup zone.

This one is a bit confusing, so here’s the part of the rule that is to be altered in the bold.

Until the ball is kicked, all receiving team (Team B) players must be inbounds and behind their restraining line, and at least eight, but no more than nine, players must be positioned between their restraining line and a spot 15 yards behind their restraining line (the “setup zone”). (See Section 2, Article 1, Item 2-b).

3. To amend Rule 12, Section 2, Article 4, to expand the prohibition on blocking below the waist by offensive and defensive players on scrimmage downs when contact occurs beyond five yards on either side of the line of scrimmage and more than two yards outside of either offensive tackle.

This one if for safety.

4. To amend Rule 15, Section 3, Article 9, and Rule 19, Section 2, to permit the Replay Official and designated members of the Officiating department to provide certain objective information to the on field officials. (This rule was also proposed by the Coaches Subcommittee, and the Baltimore Ravens)

This isn’t technically a Sky Judge thing like in the XFL, but it will allow the replay officials in the booth to talk with the on field officials at times when there’s clear video evidence to help ensure they get the call right.

Here are the 7 rules proposed by teams.

5. By Chicago; to amend Rule 11, Section 3, Article 3, to ensure the enforcement of all accepted penalties committed by either team during successive Try attempts.

Of course the Bears will propose a boring rule, but here’s how this one’s changes are listed (in bold).

If a foul results in a retry, Team A will have the option to enforce the penalty from the spot where it attempted the try (previous spot) or from the yard line for the other try option, the location of which is determined by any previously enforced penalty, if applicable.

WCG member 931EFR gave his take on this rule down in the comment section below and he explains it beautifully, so I wanted to share it here.

If I am understanding what the bears proposal is, I don’t think it’s so boring.

I’m assuming the reason for the rule is the Denver game where Den lined up for a 2pt, were penalized, then lined up for an XP from the 7, then the bears were penalized, but then Den could opt to go for a 2pt conversion from the 1, and got it.... This change sounds like a way to prevent that from happening. If you opt for 2 and get penalized, then decide to go for the XP, you get re-spotted from the 15 plus the penalty. Same in reverse. That way the best Den would have gotten is a retry of the 2pt at the 2 yard line or a standard 15 yard XP.

6. By Los Angeles Rams; to amend Rule 8, Section 1, Article 2, to add a loss of down for a second forward pass from behind the line and for a pass thrown after the ball returns behind the line.

Adding a loss of down penalty besides just losing 5 yards.

7. By Kansas City Chiefs; to amend Rule 5, Section 1, Article 2, to expand jersey number options for certain positions.

This one might be my favorite on all the proposals and it’s essentially opening up the players to have more flexibility with their jersey numbers, closer to what it is in college football. Here’s what they propose each position can wear.

  • Quarterbacks, punters, and kickers allowed to wear 1–19
  • Defensive backs can wear 1–49
  • Running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers can wear 1–49 and 80-89
  • All offensive linemen can wear 50–79
  • Defensive linemen can wear 50–79 and 90–99
  • Linebackers can wear 1–59 and 90–99

I doubt this one is passed.

8. By Baltimore and Philadelphia; to amend Rule 16, Section 1, to change the options for winner of an overtime coin toss, and create a true sudden death format.

9. By Baltimore; to amend Rule 16, Section 1, to change the options for winner of an overtime coin toss, eliminate sudden death format, and eliminate overtime in the preseason.

These two (8,9) go hand in hand and have some ridiculous detail to them, but they want to change the current overtime format to give the coin toss winner the option to Spot or Choose.

(a) The option to “Spot” the ball on the field for the first play of overtime, including designation of end zone to be defended. (Overtime will not begin with a kickoff, but rather with a set of downs from scrimmage from the chosen spot.)

(b) The option to “Choose” whether to start on offense or defense from the other team’s designated spot and direction.

10. By Philadelphia; to amend Rule 6, Section 1, Article 1, to permit a team to maintain possession of the ball after a score by substituting one offensive play (4th and 15 from the kicking team’s 25-yard line) for an onside kickoff attempt.

Instead of trying an onside kick, a team can try to convert a 4th and 15 play to win back possession.

11. By Baltimore; to amend Rule 19, Section 1, Article 1, to add an eighth official who is positioned somewhere other than the playing field, with full communication to on-field officials and access to a television monitor.

This one seems like a no-brainer to me as it gets the NFL closer to what the XFL’s Sky Judge was by adding “an eighth official who is positioned somewhere other than the playing field, with full communication to on-field officials and access to a television monitor.”

What are your thoughts on these new rules? Any of them seem like something that should pass for the 2021 season?