Controversial ball carrier rule to be addressed at NFL meetings


Cedric Benson lowers his head as he bulls his way in for a touchdown.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The controversial rule that’s being forwarded for consideration this week at the National Football League meetings in Phoenix has raised the ire of many players, both former and current.

Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith said earlier this week that it’s a bad rule – in so many words – and that was followed up Sunday when Chicago Bears‘ running back Matt Forte launched into a tirade about its absurdity.

Here’s the rule as spelled out on nflevolution.comA ban on a ball carrier initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field or by a defender while making a tackle.

Here’s the penalty: A 15-yard penalty would be called if a runner or a tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players clearly are outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle-to-tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or a tackler against an opponent would not be deemed a foul.

Safety, the impetus behind the new rule, is important to the league, as it should be. However, the opinions of players like Smith and Forte should also be seriously considered.

Smith, who played for more than a decade in the league and is a Pro Football Hall of Famer, had this to say:

"“As a running back, it’s almost impossible (to not lower your head). The first thing you do is get behind your shoulder pads. That means you’re leaning forward and the first part of contact that’s going to take place is your head, regardless. I disagree with the rule altogether. It doesn’t make any sense for that position. It sounds like it’s been made up by people who have never played the game of football.”"

Forte, one of the most accomplished of running backs in the game today, was even more adamant in his opposition to the proposed rule.

Here’s a compilation of what Forte said Sunday in tweets:

"The proposed rule change for running backs might be the most absurd suggestion of a rule change I’ve ever heard of. In order to lower ur shoulder u obviously have to lower ur head. It’s a way of protecting ur self from a tackler and a way to break tackles.U can’t change the instinctive nature of running the football."

How the league addresses this newly-proposed rule will be taken up by league’s leaders and as Kevin Seifert, the lead NFC North blogger for ESPN said, “Player safety rule changes are as important to the outside perception of the league as they are to actually increasing player safety. Rejecting those efforts by dismissing a rule change would send a mixed message about the league’s intent. I don’t think the league wants to do that.”

It will be interesting on how league leaders will look at this. I agree with Seifert that if they don’t pass it, the league will look like it’s shirking their responsibility in keeping players safe. If they do, they will hear the wrath from players across the league.

Stay tuned.

Here’s a link to a video of Adrian Peterson lowering his head on a run against the Washington Redskins this past season. Would this be considered a 15-yard penalty?