The NFL's competition committee has proposed two versions of a modified expansion of instant replay, according to documents released Thursday night. Both call for a one-year trial before any permanent decisions are made but would still need approval of 24 owners to be implemented.
The first proposal would add fouls for pass interference to the list of reviewable plays. The second would include fouls for pass interference but also would add fouls for roughing the passer and unnecessary hits against a defenseless receiver. Importantly, neither would allow review of plays in which no fouls were called, meaning they could not be used in the future to address the kind of controversial missed pass interference call that occurred late in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game.
"In all of our discussions," said Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president, "there has been a real reluctance of [giving replay authority to call penalties]. That is something that from active players, to coaches, all across from football personnel, there has been a real reluctance for." Vincent said that the pair of replay proposals represented a "start" toward addressing officiating issues that have arisen, keeping in mind that three-fourths of owners would need to be on board.
"As a committee examining and looking at some of the other proposals that were submitted, you say, where do you start?" Vincent said. "What proposal, what can you put on the floor that may garner 24 votes? Because you still have got to get 24 votes to pass. ... What was put forth were two options that at least gives a minimum baseline at capturing what the data says are the two most impactful plays without putting a flag on the field."
Owners will begin discussing the competition committee's proposals next week at their annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. There are also seven club proposals relating to replay, including one by the Washington Redskins that would make all plays eligible for review. But given an option, owners usually prefer competition committee proposals over those from individual teams.
During meetings last month at the NFL scouting combine, multiple members of the committee expressed pessimism about addressing replay in a substantive way for 2019. They said they were concerned about adding judgment calls to an otherwise objective list of reviewable plays and doubted there would be much support among the full ownership group.
"I think there is still a concern about reviewing judgment calls," Green Bay Packers CEO/president Mark Murphy said at the time. "We'll study it, but I don't think anything is imminent that something will change. ... Unfortunately, the reality is that officials are human. They make mistakes. Coaches make mistakes. Players make mistakes."
Whether there is enough ownership support, the committee apparently felt compelled to respond in some way to the NFC Championship Game fiasco. In that game, two officials failed to call pass interference on Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman on a play that would have given the New Orleans Saints a first down and a chance to run valuable time off the clock while leading late in the fourth quarter. The Rams won 26-23 in overtime.
The committee left the combine with a mandate to study the concept of a sky judge, in essence an eighth member of the officiating crew who would sit in the press box and have authority to correct clear and obvious mistakes. But there was internal league concern about the viability of finding enough qualified officials to hire, and the committee is not making a recommendation on it for 2019.
Competition committee chairman Rich McKay said that "no member of the committee" supported the sky judge concept.
Among other rule proposals that owners will consider next week:
From the Denver Broncos, a rule that would add an alternative to the onside kick. Once per game in the fourth quarter, a team would have the opportunity to convert a fourth-and-15 from their 35-yard line instead of kicking off.
From the Kansas City Chiefs, a rule that would guarantee each team a possession in overtime, and to eliminate the coin toss in overtime. Under the proposal, the winner of the opening coin toss would choose whether to receive or kick off in overtime.
From the competition committee, a rule that would make permanent the 2018 changes to kickoff alignments.
From the competition committee, a rule that would eliminate all blindside blocks -- not just those to the head or neck area.
From the competition committee, a rule that would expand the reasons that the league's officiating department in New York could order the ejection of a player during a game. If adopted, the rule would allow ejections from New York for flagrant football and flagrant non-football acts.
From the competition committee, a proposal that would end the use of coin tosses to determine draft order and instead implement a system similar to the one used for playoff tiebreakers.