Press Briefing at NFL Spring Meeting – NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent and Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay
Troy Vincent: Good morning. I’ll begin with what the Competition Committee briefed the clubs on. We started with Resolution G4, which deals with instant replay and pass interference, we spoke about Kansas City’s overtime rule proposal. We gave membership an update on our diversity and inclusion efforts since the March Annual Meeting, including advances in the talent pipeline, development and mentorship for men of color. We gave membership an update on youth and high school football, and Club efforts leading into June. We will have more than 800 youth football camps across the country with more than 450 led by active players, which is significant in the football landscape.
Membership also was briefed on key takeaways from our offensive line/defensive line forum at Mercedes Benz Stadium on April17. We provided the medical data, and the Biocore team has just done a phenomenal job here, helping us advance our player protection efforts. That includes beginning the week after the Super Bowl, then Combine, through the March meetings. That medical data has allowed current players, coaches, and Legends, to have candid discussion about “how do we protect players from unnecessary risk?” So, we gave an overview of those key takeaways in the session. We spoke about drills that we have recommended be prohibited, working with the Player Association and coaches. These drills included the Oklahoma drill, half line, three spots, bull in the ring or king of the circle. Whatever you call it, those concepts still exist. If a coach says, “Oh, we don’t do Oklahoma. We don’t do bull in the ring, king of the circle,” Conceptually, they still exists as supported by the video and injury data. The data that we’ve received from Dr. Sills, Dr. York and Jeff Miller has allowed us to make informed decisions on how we advance our efforts in player protection. We are happy to answer any questions that you may have in these areas.
Regarding Resolution G4:
Rich McKay: What Resolution G4 did was give the authority to the Competition Committee to go back and revise what was Playing Rule Proposal 6C, and I think the resolution passed 31-1. So, there was obviously support for that. We talked about the process which got us here, which I talked to a number of you about yesterday. Just the idea that when we passed 6C, we were concerned about the way the games would end, the Hail Mary play, and the idea that every time, potentially, you could have a challenge and it just got very complicated so we went to a very simplistic, “lets just keep the system as it is” and lets just take the coach out of it the last two minutes of the first half, last two minutes of the game, and overtime. But then, I think as the officiating department put together their films and went on the road and saw the coaches, it became apparent that there is a concern that we would have too many stoppages in the last two minutes and so that is why we proposed resolution G4. We had a long discussion about it, we had a lot of ideas and thoughts from some of the owners and some of the GMs in the room – some people game us some good ideas and we’ll look at them and talk about them. We have webinars scheduled for June 4th and June 5th with all the coaches to go through a series of plays to understand what the standard will be in replay but, to also discuss this issue and discuss the Hail Mary. So, we have a lot of work to do but, the authority is given for us to come back with a revised 6C that would put the coaches challenge in the last two minutes of the game, last two minutes of the first half, and overtime.
Vincent: I would also say, regarding Playing Rule Proposal 7 (Kansas City overtime proposal), we had a good discussion today. There is an appetite from the coaches, and the membership as well as the Competition Committee to explore some form of the proposal for postseason play.
Regarding Kansas City overtime proposal and interest for postseason:
McKay: Yes, I would say right now – to Troy’s point – that that is where the appetite has been. Should we have a different rule for overtime for the postseason and I think there is some support for that. I would not say that there was enough support to pass it. So, I think what Kansas City did is table their proposal and then they’ll bring their proposal back next year. These are rules that typically take time, and I think the commissioner is intending to challenge us to talk about different variations of overtime in the postseason as the year progresses and share them with the clubs and see what they think.
Just curious about a couple things, I know the committee has been really interested in the safety aspects of the rules and what drills are used in training camp or not. Where are you in terms of implementing recommendations? Would that occur in training camp this year?
Vincent: Yes, we have been in discussions since we received the data. The data informs us that we have to make some changes. It is necessary based on what we saw in those first 15 days of training camp, in particular, when you get into the contact period. Having a discussion, with video, with the current player, with the coach, with the position coach, and in collaboration with the Players Association, the thought is that these recommendations should be implemented going into training camp and for the upcoming season.
Is there a list of drills that have been outlawed?
Vincent: We referenced in the room again, the names – Oklahoma drill, king of the circle, bull in the ring, then you have half line – a term depending on what club and what coaching tree you come from – three spot or pods, typically a two on two/three on three combination.
As an example, there could be a guard, center, and tight end, with a back against three defenders. We want to eliminate or minimize these individual drills where there are no run/pass reads from a defender. That really puts the offensive player at a disadvantage. When there is not a run/pass read option there, you can only go one or two places, and there is a big collision coming. The Oklahoma drill, king of the circle, bull in the ring, and half line, pods, or three spot are names that are typically used. Whatever these drills are called, it is the concept that we want to eliminate.
McKay: One thing I would say, Jarrett, to Troy’s credit, when we did this meeting in Atlanta, it was a really good group. We had head coaches, offensive line coaches, defensive line coaches, we had offensive line legends, we had defensive line legends. When you take the data, give the data to them, and then we put video up of what is currently going on – which I think some people in the room didn’t realize that it went on in some of the practices – that led to good discussion that led to this idea. I think for me, what I liked the most about trying to eliminate some of these drills is hopefully the message it sends downstream to youth football, to high school football, to college football. It will be their choice to see what they do with some of these drills. But, I would tell you some of these drills exist in high school football in a big way and I am not sure these drills are necessary. I think this forum was a really good forum to have that discussion and I was proud to just be in that room to hear the discussion. I think some of the coaches really were a little defensive at the start and probably the biggest advocates at the end. That is what data will do for you. That is what video does for you, and that is what having a forum like that does for you.
One follow-up to that, I know there has been a lot of sentiment to tweak the calendar, if you will, in regard to OTAs and allowing more time in training camp to ramp up before the contact drills. Where are you on that? Is that something that could be implemented next year or what has to happen for the global calendar to change?
Vincent: The global calendar is all a part of the CBA discussion that they are having inside the collective bargaining process. So the calendar timing will be included in the broader CBA discussions. One thing I would also add, Jarrett, is when we think about the entire offseason, we have had tremendous advancement of player protection. Implementing the kickoff rule, making that permanent, we saw significant reductions in overall injuries, just not head and neck. The elimination of the blindside block, where there still was a red flag during those first 15 days of training camp. As we look at the advancement of player protection, this is perfect cadence for continuing to advance player protection. We all agree, the video shows it. When you get the player that has to play it and the coaches who have to coach it, you come to an agreement and say, ‘We can do without this.’ And all are in agreement that this is not necessary. Even with the removal of some of these drills, both the player and coach still have the ability to prepare themselves to play.
Follow up to what Jarrett was just asking about, what will be sort of the monitoring and enforcement aspect of the ban on some of these drills? Will you watch it sort of the same way you watched the offseason practices?
Vincent: The process of accountability will be handled and enforced similar to that of the offseason rules. The player, the club, the League Office, and the Players Association will monitor these activities. Eventually, we want to move away from monitoring due to a significant injury that took place and calling the club to ask for that video. That is not where we want to be. We want to be at a place where it is a collective effort, it is a shared responsibility that we take care of one another as best we can in this competitive environment. We will hold clubs accountable and we are hoping that the coaches and the players are all working together on these efforts.
When you revised the interference rules, what will happen with the Hail Mary? Will that be exempt from that?
McKay: Yes, it will be. That is our intent. That is what is written in the resolution, that we have the ability to exempt a play from the coach’s challenge. We told them in the meeting that the purpose of that paragraph is to deal with the Hail Mary. Then you have to get a definition, we’ve already gone to a bunch of coaches, gotten them to give us some language, we’ll work through that language. We’ll talk about it on the webinar, we’ll circulate it to all membership before we come up with the final language, but, yes. That would be the idea. There would be language that would say, that play is just not subject to a challenge.
So if there is a situation where there is a Hail Mary attempted, it is incomplete, it is called incomplete but, it is obvious that a defensive player completely pushed the offensive player trying to catch the ball, you’re out of luck?
McKay: Yes, no challenge. No challenge today, didn’t have a challenge last year. You know what I mean? No challenge. Remember, in that play, officiating-wise, the philosophy has been since I have been in the League, it is survival of the fittest. Everybody jumps. Everybody is shoving, everybody is trying to get the ball, knock it down, or catch it. We tell the officials, make sure you see if anybody gets pulled down or anybody gets dragged down, that is pass interference. Otherwise, it is a different play than any other play we have because there are multiple receivers and multiple defensive players in a common area. So, we have to define it. But then otherwise, it is not one that we want to include in the system because we really don’t want our games to end on review. That is not the object. We have about 27 Hail Mary’s a year, so it not like we have an inordinate number. But, we do have 27 and the idea would be to come up with language to exempt them.
Rich, in regard to that rule, Hail Marys would be exempt and they are not automatic reviews now. Are those going to be the final changes to this rule or do you imagine being open to more changes as the offseason progresses and you hear more?
McKay: I wouldn’t say that we wouldn’t be willing to tweak it if we hear something. I think I made the joke when we got to the press conference in Phoenix that we kind of made the sausage in one or two days. The rule has really been, we have really spent time trying to understand all of the operational challenges of the rule. And so now it has been good to get all that feedback that Al and the officiating department have gotten, give it to the membership. Let’s get to the webinar, lets get to the final rule. It will look a lot like we discussed today. But, I am not going to rule out that they won’t come up with something else that says, ‘hey, we should think about this.’
Is there any discussion on giving a replay official jurisdiction over just the Hail Mary play?
McKay: No. Listen, that play just concerns all of us in the way it has been played forever. You could, I’d hate to see replay do this to us but, you could say we are just going to play it differently. And they are going to have to play it differently. That would be replay again impacting the game. But, the way the game has been played and the way that play has been played and the way that play has been officiated has been different because of the nature of the play.
Rich, in terms of the operational challenges that you guys came across in some of your research, what specific feedback or research led you to believe that there would be too many stoppages?
McKay: That’s a good question, Sal. So, just looking at it, simply this. As Al went around to the clubs on the spring officiating visits, and there is 1:45 to go on the clock, okay, here comes the offense, they run a play, the question by the coach is, ‘okay, are you going to stop that play to review?’ And the more they look at it and the more they talk about it, the answer is ‘yes, we are’. Because there was a little contact, we only got one look at it, the offense is running up to snap the ball for the next play, and we have to look at it because you can look at flag on the field, and you can look at no flag on the field. So, by bringing in the idea that you can create a foul, you made it operationally very challenging on that replay assistant to decide, ‘do I have to stop this or not?’ And that decision is going to be made in seven to 10 seconds with one view. One shot. And that led us to be very concerned, the coaches and the officiating department. You know, we can end up with a couple stops every game in the final two minutes and that is not the intent of this system.
Sal Paolantonio: So now it will be the coach’s responsibly to do that.
McKay: Yes, but the difference, Sal, and not to cut you off but, the difference would be the coach isn’t going to do that unless it is a really big play. It has to have real material impact for him to want to challenge because he is going to lose a timeout.
Paolantonio: So, in June if I’m a coach on the webinar, I’m going to say, ‘hey, it’s my responsibility and now I have to hold back a precious flag…”
McKay: And we need to work through that and make sure that we’ve dealt with that issue. We agree, that will be one of the things we’ll discuss on the webinar. But, I would tell you that from a statistical standpoint, that coach currently does hold back that flag. Because currently, I think I’m right on this, I think there are 0.6 challenges per team per game. So, they are not even challenging one per game. Once we took touchdowns or scoring plays and turnovers and made them automatic reviews, then coaches have a lot more challenges to use at the end of the day. That said, we do want to make sure we are paying attention to the last two minutes and overtime.
Vincent: Sal, what was clear, after three-quarters of the club visits, there were three standards requested by the coaches. There was a real-time standard, there was a replay standard and then they were asking for us to be more lenient under two minutes. You can’t have three different standards. We continued gathering the information to bring back to the committee, back to membership, and possibly modify based off of collective input. Based on what was discussed in March and now in the club visits, there are three expectations on the pass interference foul. We must be able to deliver consistency with the least amount of disruptions. The exercise now is to ensure proper implementation of the playing rule as we enter into the season.
McKay: We have many a time, during the preseason, and you all have reported on it. We’ve had conference calls and said, ‘okay, this point of emphasis, we need to have a discussion about what’s being called here on the field, and why, and how.’ We’ve done it with use of the helmet, last year we did it with roughing the passer. We’ve done it a lot. But, we’ve never gone in and changed a rule. And so, that’s what is concerning to us. If operationally this is going to be as challenging as its being presented and the coaches and officiating staff think it may be, then we need to look at it now. We don’t need to be looking at this in August.
So, in the research, when you were looking at the past Hail Marys, just to clarify one point on that, you found a substantial number of plays where pass interference should’ve been called?
McKay: No, no, just plays where coaches might have challenged. If they’re going to challenge it is the last play of the game, so, they’re not running into the locker room with that challenge in their pocket. Because the first question you guys will ask is, ‘why didn’t you challenge that Hail Mary?’ So, we are putting them in a really tough spot in that regard.