Player safety is something that is of utmost importance to the NFL, and the league took another step toward making the game safer by passing the 'use of the helmet' rule, which will expand the scope for calling a penalty for contact made with the helmet.
The change to what was the 'crown of the helmet' rule will result in a 15-yard penalty and potential ejection when a player lowers his head and uses his helmet to initiate or make contact with an opponent, and this rule will be applied to all players, including linemen.
"It's actually, lowering the head, is the way the rule is being written," said Steelers President Art Rooney II at the conclusion of the meetings. "It's lowering the head and using the helmet to attempt to injure another player. The language that has been used in general has been using the helmet as a weapon. That's the intent, to get that out of the game.
"The rule is in place. There are still some questions about the administration of the rule, the use of replay in connection with the rule. Questions about in-game ejections and how the officials will handle those. There is still some discussion about the administration of the rule."
The 'administration' of the rule is something that NFL owners expect to discuss further during the Spring League Meetings in May, as there are still details to be ironed out, something that will take place over the next month or so.
"We do have questions about what the standard will be for an ejection, how close they are going to call that, how they are going to be advised to interpret the rule," said Rooney. "There are going to be some follow-up meetings between now and the May meeting with coaches and players, to get everybody's input, and the officiating group, just so that everybody gets a clear understanding on how that part of it is going to be handled. We have some work to be done there. There is still some discussion about how replay may be used in those kind of plays.
"I think the intent of the rule is to prevent players from having the helmet used as a weapon. It never was intended to be that way. I think we have to do what is necessary to make that correction and change the behavior."
Rooney said there wasn't one particular incident that led to the rule change, including the hit Ryan Shazier sustained when he suffered a spinal injury against the Cincinnati Bengals in December.
"I would hesitate to say that was the impetus for it," said Rooney. "The Competition Committee has noticed that we still have players who are using the helmet as a weapon. That is the intent to get that out of the game."
Rooney also weighed in on several other topics:
On wrapping up the meetings:
"We talked a little bit more about the "use of the helmet" rule, and the administration of the rule. We have some work to be done there. There is still some discussion about how replay may be used in those kind of plays. We thought it was a good meeting and got some important rules passed. The Jesse James catch rule, the "use of the helmet" rule, the important rules we had changes to, are done."
On if it will be called the Jesse James rule:
"At least in Pittsburgh I think it will be."
On discussions regarding the National Anthem:"We had a good discussion about the anthem. We are going to come back and discuss it in May. We approved the social justice campaign. I think the dialogue with the players in that regard will continue. But no decisions were made in regard to the anthem.
"I think there is a lot of discussion that is going to take place at the ownership level. I think there is still discussion to be had with the players. There are a lot of parties involved, and that is why we are taking our time with it."