NFL owners approve rule changes

NFL owners approved a proposed rule on Wednesday to ban ball carriers from initiating contact with the crown of their helmets in the open field.

The decision came on the final day of the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix.

The owners also overwhelmingly abolished the infamous tuck rule, which has been talked about around the league for more than a decade.

The controversy over the helmet-hit rule had been growing since it was proposed by the NFL Competition Committee on Thursday. While NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly backed the rule, it was criticized by players ranging from current Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte to Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk. However, NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport reported that rule passed by a 31-1 margin with only the Cincinnati Bengals voting against it.

The new rule will draw a 15-yard penalty if a runner or a tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players clearly are outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle-to-tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team's end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or a tackler against an opponent would not be deemed a foul.

The rule was proposed as part of the league's health and safety crusade. The competition committee wanted to take away a play that could cause a concussion, by making it illegal for players to use their helmets as weapons.

"We really think the time has come that we need to address the situation in space when a runner or a tackler has a choice as to how they are going to approach the opponent," Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL Competition Committee, said before the meeting. "We are going to say that you can't make that choice ducking your head and delivering a blow, a forcible blow, with the top crown of your helmet. We are trying to protect the runner or the tackler from himself in that instance."

Also, the infamous "tuck rule" was eliminated by a 29-1-2 vote. The Steelers voted against the rule change while the Patriots and Redskins abstained. The tuck rule allowed a fumbled ball moving forward in the hand of a quarterback to be called an incomplete pass. It became famous in 2001 when Tom Brady dropped a ball while starting a passing motion during a snowy 2001 playoff game against the Oakland Raiders.

In addition, the owners voted to amend the rule regarding the illegal throwing of a challenge flag. The so-called "Jim Schwartz Rule" will tie the challenging of plays to timeouts. Under the new rule, every time a coach initiates a replay, his team will be charged a timeout. If a play is challenged illegally, the team will lose a timeout — even if the challenge is successful. If a team is out of timeouts, it will be penalized 15 yards, but the play will still be reviewed.

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