Refs lose final say on replay
Owners approve centralized system, ban kick ‘leaping.’
One day after approving the Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas, NFL owners meeting in Phoenix got busy passing several rules changes and adopting resolutions they believe will speed the game and enhance player safety. Most notable Tuesday was the change in handling officiating of video replays. Referees will now watch replays on the field using tablets, eliminating “going under the hood” to the watch on television monitors.
League officiating chief Dean Blandino and his staff in New York will make the final decisions on those calls, with input from the referee, who in the past was the ultimate arbiter after consulting with league headquarters.
“And I think that’s important to remember, we’re not taking the referee out of the equation,” Blandino has said. “The referee will still be involved, the referee will still give input but will no longer have the final say.”
Owners also extended bringing touchbacks out to the 25-yard line for another year; eliminating “leapers” trying to block field goals or extra points; added protections for defenseless receivers running their routes; and made permanent the rule disqualifying a player who is penalized twice in a game for specific unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.
Other actions taken Tuesday included:
■ Banning crackback blocks by a backfield player who goes in motion.
■ Creating an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for committing multiple fouls during the same down with the purpose of manipulating the game clock.
■ Allowing teams to interview or hire an employee of another team during the season if given consent.
■ Modifying some bylaws regarding bringing draft-eligible players to clubs’ facilities; changing procedures for returning a player to the active ranks from lists such as physically unable to perform, non-football injury or non-football illness.
The leaper rule falls under the category of enhancing player safety, competition committee chairman Rich McKay said last week.
“I would say it’s going to go as far as it needs to from a player safety standpoint,” said McKay, president of the Falcons. “We’re not going to put players in a position in which we think there is an unreasonable risk of injury.
“When we met with the NFLPA it was a rule that certainly caught their attention and they favored it right from the outset.”
Owners also were considering whether to allow players and coaches to use tablets for video on the sidelines — they are limited to still photos now; eliminating the summer cutdown to 75 players, making for one cut at the end of the preseason; allowing unlimited coaches’ challenges and expanding what calls can be challenged; and reducing the length of overtime from 15 minutes to 10 during the regular season.
Cowboys: Tight end Jason Witten signed a four-year contract extension that virtually guarantees the 14-year veteran will spend his entire career in Dallas.
The deal Witten signed Tuesday runs through 2021 and leaves the final year of the two-time All Pro’s current contract intact. The extension has a maximum value of $29 million with no new guaranteed money and gives the Cowboys the flexibility to restructure and create about $4 million in salary-cap space.
Witten, who turns 35 in May, is one of two tight ends in NFL history with at least 1,000 catches and 10,000 yards receiving. The other is Tony Gonzalez, who retired in 2013 after 17 seasons.
Eagles: Agreed to terms on a two-year contract with defensive end Chris Long, who won a Super Bowl last season with New England.
A No. 2 overall draft pick by the Rams in 2008, Long spent eight seasons with St. Louis before he joined the Patriots in 2016. Long four sacks and 10 quarterback hits in 16 games for New England and was an integral part of a defense that allowed an NFL-low 250 points.
Jets: Signed former Colts offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison. He is expected to add depth and possibly compete at center with Wesley Johnson, who has not yet signed his restricted freeagent tender.
Browns: Re-signed defensive lineman Jamie Meder, who blocked a late field goal to give the team its only win last season. The 6-foot-3, 308-pounder recorded 48 tackles and a sack in 15 starts.
A rendering of the planned Raiders stadium in Las Vegas. NFL owners on Monday approved the club’s relocation from Oakland to play in the $1.7 billion stadium, expected to be ready for the 2020 season.