NFL owners ban hip-drop tackle, approve Lions challenge proposal, debating kickoff change

ORLANDO — NFL teams are still debating an overhaul to the league’s kickoff rules, but owners passed three new playing rules Monday, including a ban on one form of the hip-drop tackle, and a modification to the league’s challenge system proposed by the Detroit Lions.

Owners approved granting a team a third challenge if the team is successful in either of its first two challenges. Previously, teams got a third challenge only if both their first two challenges were successful.

“It was interesting,” competition committee chairman Rich McKay said. “In a rule that you don’t think is that consequential, it was definitely an interesting debate and an interesting vote. And that rule passed, barely, but it did pass.”

McKay told the Free Press teams have been reluctant to approve a third challenge in the past because data shows there’s rarely a need for it in the game.

All turnovers and scoring plays are automatically reviewed, and the NFL will expand its replay assist rules in 2024 to include intentional grounding and roughing the quarterback plays.

Eliminating hip-drop swivel tackle

The league unanimously approved outlawing the hip-drop swivel tackle, which occurred about once a game last season and has an injury rate about 20 times higher than a standard tackle, said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communication, public affairs and policy.

The rugby-style tackle has become increasingly common in recent years due to the NFL’s desire to take tackling with the helmet out of the game. Hip-drop swivel tackles will be subject to 15-yard penalties and repeated violations could merit fines and suspensions.

To be considered illegal, the tackle must meet three criteria: The defender grabs or wraps the runner with both hands or arms, “unweights” himself by swiveling his hips or lower body, and lands on the offensive player’s legs below the knee.

The NFL Players Association voiced opposition to the ban in recent weeks, and new Lions defensive lineman D.J. Reader wrote on social media Monday after the rule was passed, “These rules getting crazy out here. Two hand tag better fits the game.”“Yes, we outlawed the hip-drop, but what you may think are the drag from behind where he falls on (the legs) is still a tackle,” McKay said. “This is only that tackle where a player (swivels) himself in the air and is then falling on his legs.”

Kickoff rules debate

McKay said he hopes owners will vote on the kickoff rules Tuesday, rather than table it to their May meeting, though he acknowledged it is “a major change” and one that “feels complicated to you if it’s the first time you’ve seen it.”

Under the new proposal, the NFL would have similar kickoff rules to the XFL, with the kicker kicking off from his own 35-yard line, and the kick cover team at the receiving team’s 40-yard line.

The receiving team can have two return men in the landing zone, where the ball must be kicked inside the 20-yard line on non-touchbacks, while the rest of the blocking unit lines up at the 35-yard line.

The purpose of the change is to increase the number of returns while limiting the high-speed collisions that historically are part of return plays. Last year, about 21% of kickoffs were returned league-wide.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh called the new proposal an “opportunity to keep the kickoff return in the game, make it exciting, that’s what I’m happy about and I think it’s the right thing to do.”

“The line of scrimmage is a big part of football, it’s been around for quite a while,” Harbaugh said. “And that play kind of takes the line of scrimmage out of it. So it’s a drastic move that’s going to be way different if it gets passed than what we’ve seen out of kickoff and kickoff return in the past. It’s just a different kind of a football play, so I just appreciate that we’re exploring every option — hopefully explore every option up to that point to where we’ve got to make that kind of a move. So is that the right move at this time? I don’t know. I think that’s to be determined, but I’m confident that we’ll come to a good conclusion.”

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