NFL owners OK replay change, other new rules

  • ESPN.com national NFL writer
  • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
  • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

NFL owners approved a series of new rules Wednesday, including one that will expand the influence of replay officials amid ongoing demands from coaches for more oversight of game-day officials.

Owners rejected more robust proposals for a full-time sky judge, including one from the Baltimore Ravens that would have created a booth umpire. Instead, owners took the more modest step of giving the existing replay official — who sits in the press box of each stadium — the authority to consult with referees on certain “specific, objective aspects of a play when clear and obvious video evidence is present,” according to the language of the rule.

Replay officials will not be able to throw flags or reverse calls on their own. But they can now offer referees advice based on what they’ve seen on broadcast replays in the areas of possession, completed or intercepted passes, the location of the ball relative to the boundary or end line, and whether a player is down by contact. Coaches will not have to throw challenge flags to prompt that advice, which some replay officials have been giving referees informally for years.

In other news regarding Wednesday’s votes, NFL owners:

  • Approved a relaxation of rules for the numbers that players of certain positions can wear because of expanded practice squads. Running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, defensive backs and linebackers can all wear numbers in the single digits if they choose. Based on preexisting NFL rules, players who want to change their numbers this season will have to buy out the inventory of the NFL’s manufacturing partners. This wouldn’t apply to players who give notice in 2021 that they want to change numbers in 2022.

  • Approved a one-year experiment in attempt to make it easier to recover onside kicks. In 2021, the receiving team on kickoffs will be limited to nine players within 25 yards of the ball. Last season, NFL teams recovered only three of 67 onside kicks, the lost total and recovery rate since at least 2001.

  • Eliminated overtime in preseason games.

  • Changed a rule that will now force a loss of down if two passes are completed behind the line of scrimmage.

  • A rule change that ensures the enforcement of all accepted penalties during successive try attempts.

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