Instant replay, in terms of the number of challenges coaches currently have, will be discussed. There will be a proposal to prohibit running backs from using the crown of the helmet whenever they engage defensive players outside the tackle box. The long-snapper could come out of this with a defenseless player designation. The peel-back block stands to be eliminated inside the tackle box, and there could be some changes to the Rooney Rule.
The NFL Owners Meetings begin on Sunday, March 17, in Phoenix, and those are some of the key things to be discussed and possibly voted on during the several days spent there. Team President Art Rooney II will head the Steelers delegation in attendance, and in a media session on Thursday he outlined what's to be on the agenda at the meetings, while also responding to questions about the challenges the team has faced to this point in the offseason.
"I don't view it as dramatically different from other years," said Rooney about the kinds of moves the Steelers have made so far in 2013. "The recent history is that we face decisions like this almost every year in terms of making decisions on players who have made key contributions. I always say every year is really a new jigsaw puzzle, and you have to figure out how to put the pieces together in the best way you can. Shaping the contracts is a big part of that. We've got to have players with contracts that fit within the whole system and fit within the cap. It's a challenge every year. Obviously, some years you have to make decisions on players like we've had the last couple of years that are not easy decisions and not fun decisions, but by the same token, every year you have to make those kinds of decisions."
The 2013 version of those decisions involved cutting James Harrison and Willie Colon, both of whom were starters on the Steelers team that won Super Bowl XLIII. Harrison also owns a ring from Super Bowl XL and was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
"Not easy," said Rooney about having to cut Harrison. "It's certainly not a part of the job you enjoy, having to say goodbye to a player like that, who's meant that much to us and contributed that much to our success. That's not a fun part of the business, that's for sure."
The self-evaluation the NFL goes through at its annual spring meetings is part of the business, and lately an important part of the business has been finding ways to enhance player safety. In addition to the on-field items previously mentioned, Rooney said there will be discussion about the NFL Foundation and the research dollars to be allocated toward research on player safety, particularly concussions.
"Related to that, retired player programs and retired player engagement," said Rooney, "is something we've talked a lot about and I think everybody is trying to ramp up their efforts to really reach out to retired players and just have more contact with them in addition to all of the programs we have now. It's really an effort to just make sure. No. 1, I think retired players know about programs that are available to them, and No. 2, just to create a situation where they understand where to go to get help. The teams are available to help them in some of these efforts, health-screening programs and things like that are going on."
Other off-the-field issues to be up for discussion are the Rooney Rule, fan engagement/stadium enhancement, and the future of the NFL's international games.
"This year is going to be the first year that we play two games in London," said Rooney, with the Steelers vs. the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 29 to be one of them. "There is discussion about increasing the number of games that we play internationally, particularly in London, and even the possibility that some day we'll have a team play in London. I'd say we're still in the early stages of that discussion, but it is moving forward to let's say a new level of consideration at this point."
The Rooney Rule was established in 2003 and requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. The discussion to take place in Phoenix will be aimed at reviewing whether the rule as currently written is having the desired impact.
"I think it needs to be reviewed, let's put it that way," said Rooney. "When it was first put in, I think everybody felt that it was having the desired effect. This year was, from the standpoint of the Rooney Rule, you might say even though everybody complied, the fact that there were no minority coaches hired was something people want to talk about, and really talk about whether we are developing minority coaches in a satisfactory way and what programs we could implement to help advance that effort. I think it's time for a review and consideration of whether it's working and how to improve it."
The NFL owners also are interested in protecting attendance at stadiums, and so 20-30 fans will be invited to participate in a fan forum at the meetings where there will be dialogue as to how the experience in the stadium is keeping up with the experience at home.