Reviewing the NFL rule changes, plus recapping Tuesday’s news


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Jim Harbaugh has almost gone full Walter White since moving from Michigan to L.A., living in an RV at a trailer park. I need a Gardner Minshew-like photoshoot.

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Today’s NFL update:

  • 🔬New kickoff rules examined
  • 🎥 One play everyone is copying
  • 🤝 NBA-style trades?
  • 📑 Tre’Davious White a Ram

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2024 NFL Rule Changes

The NFL’s annual owners meetings ended yesterday with new rules for tackling players, an XFL-like approach to kickoffs and a full Christmas schedule that the NBA — and your family — can’t be thrilled with. Here’s what the NFL is changing in 2024:

1. Hip-drop tackle is OUT. Any player caught tackling in this manner will incur a 15-yard penalty, with an automatic first down given to the offense. Post-game, the league will review tape and issue fines for offending players — even if they weren’t penalized at the time.

The NFL’s leaders felt that they could not ignore an injury rate that is about 25 times higher than that of a standard tackle. But this rule is ripe for subjective calls, and I’m hoping we don’t see this decide the outcomes of too many games.

As you can imagine, there is controversy among NFL stakeholders.

2. Kick returns are BACK, but different. Designed to reduce the likelihood of players running into each other at full speed, the NFL changed kickoffs, one of its most radical rule adjustments in a while. It should improve what had become a boring play with a 73% touchback rate.

How it works: At least 19 of the 22 players start within ten yards of each other (all non-kickers/returners) and can’t begin running until the ball is fielded.

Ted Nguyen spoke to the creator of XFL’s similar kickoff (see the gif below) and shared a masterclass on what to watch for with the NFL’s new rules. The XFL’s kickoffs had a 97 percent return rate, incredible compared to the NFL’s 22 percent last season.

Co-creator Eric Galko shared strategies for this new model, in which returns will be more closely analogous to spaced-out run plays than to traditional kickoffs, making vision and reaction time more valuable than straight-line speed.

Still, someone call Devin Hester.

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This rule also kills the surprise onside kick, as teams must declare when they will attempt one. They are also limited to two per game, both of which must be in the fourth quarter. Sadly, the fourth-and-20 idea was not approved.

3. Christmas 🤝 NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the league would continue to chase high TV-ratings and play two games on December 25 this season. With Christmas falling on a Wednesday, those four teams will have last played on the Saturday prior — making the turnaround similar to Sunday-to-Thursday.

4. Trade deadline moves back. While multiple teams suggested moving the deadline to after Week 10, the Steelers’ post-Week 9 proposal was accepted, moving it back by seven days. This should promote more trade activity and give teams an opportunity to restock as injuries mount.

A full list of the rule and bylaw changes, which include updates to coaches challenges and IR positions, can be found here.


What Dianna’s Hearing: Kickoff change took persuading

There were many around the NFL who thought owners would refuse to vote in favor of the new kickoff rules, as they mark a drastic shift from traditional football.

I was told commissioner Roger Goodell and other NFL executives who supported the change spent the night prior to the vote explaining to owners why the rule change was important to both special teams and player safety. It worked.

My thoughts? I’m watching the impact on player safety closely, as there are still downhill aspects of the play. Kickers in the NFL are also much better than in other leagues, which could influence strategies in kick placement/returns.

Back to you, Jacob.


Watching Tape: Mike McDaniel’s ‘cheat’ play

NFL offensive coordinators took notes after the second quarter of Miami’s Week 1 game against the Chargers, when Dolphins HC Mike McDaniel called a short motion to set up a 28-yard catch for receiver Tyreek Hill.

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This play, which allows Hill to quickly increase speed against an immobile defender, may trace its origins to the CFL, where all offensive backfield players, except the quarterback, may be in motion at the snap.

The short motion was one reason Miami’s offense ranked second in pass yards per attempt (8.3) despite QB Tua Tagovailoa throwing the ball after a league-fastest average of 2.36 seconds.

By the end of the 2023 season, some version of this motion was in the playbooks of most teams that utilized pre-snap movement. Jourdan Rodrigue’s article about how one tweak swept through the NFL offers a fascinating look into the story and impact of the play.


Your Questions, Our Answers: NBA-Style trades?

Q: Can NFL teams do NBA-style trades in the sense of essentially drafting for each other and then trading the selected players?

For example, could the Vikings and Chargers make a deal where Justin Herbert goes to Minnesota in a post-June 1st move so LA gets a minimal cap hit, and in exchange the Vikings draft players at 11 and 23 *at the Chargers’ direction* and then send those players to the Chargers as part of the post-June 1 trade? – Erik S.

Randy Mueller, former NFL GM and Executive of the Year:

“In the NFL, trade terms remain rigid when compared to other professional leagues. Drafting a player who is to be traded for a veteran player, thereby utilizing post June-1 designations, is not allowed. Allowing ‘cap counting and cap allocation’ to be part of trades has not approached NBA standards.

“Drafting teams in the NFL are allocated a certain amount of rookie pool money to sign draft picks, according to drafting slot values assigned by the league. That rookie pool money cannot be traded or travel between teams.

“Therefore, trading an unsigned rookie at a later date would not allow an acquiring team to have any rookie pool money to sign that player, especially if it was a first-round-type financial commitment.”


Around the NFL

 CB Tre’Davious White, formerly of the Bills, agreed to a one-year, $8.5 million contract with the Rams. The two-time Pro Bowler had missed only three games in his NFL career prior to a series of injuries beginning in 2021. Hoping he’s healthy this season.

RB/WR Cordarelle Patterson, a four-time All-Pro return specialist, was signed by the Steelers on a two-year, $6 million deal within hours of the NFL’s new kickoff rule. Kickoffs might really be back.

RB J.K. Dobbins has been “cleared for football activities” after tearing his Achilles in Week 1 of the 2023 season. His lengthy injury history pairs with a career average of 5.8 yards per carry to make him an interesting flier this offseason. The Cowboys could come calling.

QB Justin Fields is now a Steeler, and reporters Mike DeFabo and Adam Jahns shared the inside story of how it went down.

QB Zach Wilson has been allowed to seek a trade for over a month. Not surprisingly, his market is quiet. Jets reporter Zack Rosenblatt examines possible outcomes for the 24-year-old.

QB Dak Prescott could hit free agency after this season unless an extension is worked out. Cowboys reporter Jon Machota answers why Dallas is willing to do this. “Jerry Jones was very aware that Prescott and his agent, Todd France, got the best of Jones on the franchise quarterback’s last deal.”


Jacob’s Picks

📕 A lot of Drew Brees in Bo Nix,” is the title of Broncos beat writer Nick Kosmider’s article on Nix, the former Oregon quarterback. As you can imagine, “The dots between the 24-year-old quarterback and the Broncos aren’t difficult to connect with the NFL Draft fast approaching.” (The Athletic)

📺 From RV to TV. Listen to Jim Harbaugh speak to the media for the first time since his introduction. He shares his thoughts on Keenan Allen, the fifth overall pick and how important a strong offensive line is. (YouTube)

🎙 NFL mock draft, picks 19 to 25. Many believe there is a drop-off in talent around pick 22 in this year’s draft. Listen to how Robert Mays and Nate Tice navigate this for teams holding the picks between 25 and 19 — including the Packers, Cowboys, Vikings, Eagles, Dolphins, Steelers and Rams. (Podcast)

Now, how do you feel about those rule changes?

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