The NFL's owners will gather for the league's spring meetings starting on Sunday in West Palm Beach, Fla., and when the sessions are over there could be new rules governing overtime, instant replay and the way the quarterback is to be protected in the pocket.
The Steelers are behind two of those proposals – overtime and banning horse-collar tackles on the quarterback while he's in the pocket – but the initiative to change instant replay procedures might just be the most dramatic of the three.
The proposals to be advanced by the Steelers, frankly, make too much sense not to be adopted. Previously, the horse-collar rule prohibited, "grabbing the inside collar of the back of the shoulder pads or jersey, or the inside collar of the side of the shoulder pads or jersey, and immediately pulling down the runner or passer." But the rule also included, "This does not apply to a runner who is in the tackle box or to a quarterback who is in the pocket."
The Steelers' proposal would eliminate the quarterback exception.
"That rule change is actually our proposal. It's a Pittsburgh proposal," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "We feel that with all the other protections we've given the quarterbacks that it's a little odd we excluded the horse-collar from the quarterback in the pocket. There are some reasons the competition committee felt that since he's not a runner then there's a different dynamic to that kind of tackle. We think the same kind of injury risk is there, even though it's probably a rare occurrence. We feel it's kind of a little hole in the quarterback's protection that needs to be filled."
The other Pittsburgh proposal would streamline overtime rules. Currently a different system of overtime exists for the regular season vs. the playoffs. Today, the regular season overtime rule has it that the first team to score wins the game. The playoff version added the caveat that if the team that won the overtime coin toss drove down and kicked a field goal on the opening possession, the opposing team would get a chance with the football. The Steelers' proposal would adopt the playoff version for all overtime situations.
"Coach (Mike) Tomlin has complained to us many times since the new overtime rules were put into effect," said Rooney. "In the playoffs, the team that scores first, the second team has a chance to get the ball back if it's a field goal. We felt from day one – and Coach Tomlin in particular believes – that we should have the same rules in the regular season as we do in the postseason. We've proposed the change. We are hopeful that it will pass. I do think there is some support for it."
The third item up for consideration would change one of the basics of instant replay. Ever since replay was implemented, all decisions on whether to uphold the original call or overturn it fell to the in-game referee. This proposed change would add a replay official, who would handle all instant replay reviews, with the stated reason being to reduce the time it takes to get through the whole process.
"There are actually a few changes proposed for the replay rules," said Rooney. "The change to have a (replay) official upstairs making the calls, I think it may be worth a try. The fact is, with the technology available today – the HD, the different monitors – it's kind of crazy to not have that available to the person making the decision on a replay. The official down on the field cannot really have access to all of that. I think it makes sense and it's probably something we will support.
"The piece of it that I'm not sure about, and we will listen to the committee as it makes the proposal, there's a possibility of expanding replay so that all turnovers will be automatically reviewed. Our concern there is how many stoppages of a game do you want to have, and is it really necessary to extend it that far? Last year, we extended the replay rule so that all scoring plays are reviewed. I'm not sure (this further expansion) is one we will support. We will listen, but that's one I have some concerns about."
Rooney said his understanding is that the replay official would be part of the crew and would travel and work with the group from week-to-week.
"I think the crew on the field would probably feel better if they felt the guy in the booth was a part of their team," said Rooney. "I think that would be a better way to do it."
Apart from these three proposals, there are a couple of other items on the agenda that could impact the game, and Rooney will go to these meetings leaning toward supporting both. One is a change to injured reserve, and the other has to do with moving the trade deadline back by a couple of weeks.
"The proposal is that there would be an eight-week IR," said Rooney about the adjustment to injured reserve. "It would have to be a player who is on your 53-man roster for the opening week, and then any time after that, you can designate a player for the eight-week IR. You only get one a year, but if you have a fairly key player who has a significant injury, but not a season-ending injury, you will have the opportunity to bring that player back at some opportunity when he's healed. I think that's a proposal we will support."
This eight-week IR rule would have benefited Byron Leftwich last season. The Steelers could have designated him as their eight-week IR player for 2011, and when the broken arm he sustained in the preseason healed, he would have been eligible to rejoin the active roster. This would have given Tomlin additional options at quarterback when Ben Roethlisberger sustained his high ankle sprain in December.
"Byron probably would have been able to come back to us at the end of last season," said Rooney. "That's the kind of example we think the situation would affect."