Teams to face discipline for hits, too

When these issues were presented as part of the NFL owners' meetings in late March, they were tabled, at least partly because the league's coaches weren't completely satisfied that there was clarity on how they were to be implemented. But on Tuesday, with no coaches around, the league's 32 owners voted unanimously to approve rules amendments directed at enhanced player safety.

Included in this was a measure aimed at penalizing a player for launching himself into a defenseless opponent, and it also should be noted that the definition of what constitutes a defenseless player has been broadened.

With these changes, a defenseless player now is defined as those throwing a pass; attempting or completing a catch without having time to ward off or avoid contact; a runner whose forward progress has been stopped by a tackler; kickoff or punt returners while the ball is in the air; kickers or punters during a kick or a return; a quarterback during a change of possession; a player who receives a blindside block from a blocker moving toward his own end zone.

It will be a 15-yard penalty for anyone who launches himself to hit a defenseless player, and such tackles also will be subject to fines.

But it was after NFL vice president Adolpho Birch III said the league will punish a team if its players are fined multiple times for illegal hits when Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal tweeted that reporters covering the meetings in Indianapolis already were calling the policy the Anti-Steelers Rule.

In a subsequent story on USAToday.com, long-time NFL reporter Jarrett Bell wrote, "Art Rooney II isn't too thrilled that a planned new NFL policy to police excessive flagrant fouls was quickly tagged with a nickname: The Pittsburgh Steelers Rule. Yet the Steelers president understands the intent: Player safety."

"I'm going to reserve judgment on it now," Rooney told Bell. "I'm not going to say I'm opposed to it. I would hope that it's something that is used judiciously, that is sort of reserved for repeated type of conduct. I think if it's handled that way, it'll probably be effective. It's still under discussion."

According to Birch, the punishment levied against the teams most often will come in the form of fines, but there also is the possibility a team could be stripped of draft choices.

"From our end, we are looking at a system that is similar to the one we put in a couple of years ago with respect to off-field conduct to really encourage clubs and encourage coaches to teach the proper techniques and to correct dangerous play on the field," said Birch. "We are still working on some of the details. The basic point of it would be to check the number of fines and the level of fines that are going out for infractions that relate specifically to various safety violations, whether it be spearing, late hits or things that we think particularly relate to the head and helmet issues, and try to monitor those over the course of the year. As a club's total gets higher to a certain threshold, then we will enforce some penalty and payback for those clubs to help encourage them to stay below that threshold. That is the basic point about it."

Birch would not identify which teams would have been disciplined last season had the rule been in place in 2010.

"I don't want to get into the specifics about particular teams," said Birch. "If we used the appropriate thresholds and look at it, there were three or four teams that would have been subject to the policy last year. We are comfortable that it would be a reasonable amount based on what we had looked at in looking at the numbers from 2010."

Birch said the details of enforcement, such as the amount of fines to be levied against the clubs, or how many player fines would be required to trigger such punishment, have yet to be determined. That kind of uncertainty is an example of the kind of thing the coaches were uncomfortable with during the March meetings.

"It is going to be implemented," said Birch about the rule punishing teams for the actions of their players. "Some of the details we are still working out, but the commissioner was clear that it was something he wants to put into place this year."

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