Notebook: NFL considering rules changes

Ryan Longwell (Nick Laham/Getty)

The NFL isn't in step with its players over the labor situation, but the competition committee is suggesting a number of rules changes, including moving kickoffs up and making other changes aimed at player safety. Plus, the Moss interview gets a couple of sidebar takes and other views on the NFL.

While there currently isn't an NFL in the form everyone is accustomed to – with no union and no players, it's hard to argue that business is going on as usual – the intricacies of the NFL continue to make news.

Despite the labor issues, the NFL continues to frame the game and consider rules changes. On Tuesday, the league's competition committee said it wouldn't consider what has been dubbed the Calvin Johnson Rule – which requires receivers not only to get both feet down on receptions, but to also come up from the ground with possession of the ball.

But there were some changes the committee suggested. On Wednesday, Ray Anderson, the NFL's vice president of football operations, announced that the league will increase its enforcement of "big hit" sanctions to players, especially those deemed as repeat offenders.

Anderson said "everyone will be clearly on notice" that suspensions will be handed out for the type of hits that were glorified in ESPN's weekly "Jacked Up" segment. In the world of basketball, they call it "Posterizing" – humbling an opponent with a photo of player dunking while the opponent bails out. In the world of the NFL, "sending a message" has been the part of every defense. The big hit that gives wide receivers "alligator arms" is what puts NFL defenders on the map. The NFL has taken great pains to make the league "more offensive" – creating rules that not only protect quarterbacks, but hinder what defenders can do to receivers beyond a 5-yard buffer zone. The helmet-to-helmet hit has been a part of football from they day they started wearing helmets (presumably they were "forehead to forehead" hits prior to that). The edict that stiffer penalties are forthcoming is ironic given the current industry impasse. With the lack of free-agent news – which typically dominates March in the NFL fans' calendar year – this has become headline news.

As part of the NFL police ruling, the definition of "defenseless player" will increase to eight – a QB in the act of throwing, a receiver trying to make a catch, a runner in the grasp of tacklers with forward progress officially stopped, a player fielding a punt or kickoff, a kicker or punter during the act of kicking, a QB at any time after a change of possession, a receiver who gets a blind-side block and a player already on the ground. The last three are fresh and, while legitimate, are being added to the list of things forbidden against defensive players.

As if the unnecessary shot across the bow by the NFL to further restrict what defensive players have been taught since their Pop Warner days, the league is looking into taking dominant kickers out of the equation.

When the owners meet next week in New Orleans, one of the topics of discussion will be to move the kickoff point once again. Except, they're looking at the wrong direction. For those fans of Fred Cox as the Vikings kicker, they remember kickoffs coming from the 40-yard line. With a ball on a tee, a 70-yard kickoff not only went through the goal posts if it was dead center, but landed in the back of the end zone. The straight-on kickers of the day rarely put the ball into the end zone. But, as the specialization of the NFL began, why not start with the special teams?

Soccer-style kickers changed the game like few other NFL innovations. Old-school kickers went the way of the TV repairman and the typewriter salesman. As the athleticism of kickers grew, teams invested in two kickers – one that can handle the pressure of a 45-yarder with a game on the line and another that could boom a ball eight yards deep into the end zone.

Once touchbacks became too prevalent, the league backed up the starting point of kickoffs to the 35-yard line. Then the 30-yard line. The Raiders used a first-round pick on Sebastian Janikowski and made Shane Lechler the first punter off the board in the fifth round for just that reason. Teams could win games by investing in special teams. As much as Al Davis can rightfully be criticized for other draft picks (JaMarcus Russell, Darius Heyward-Bey, etc.), he is the only decision-maker in the NFL to invest two premium picks on a kicker and punter. He did that in 2000. A decade later, both remain with the Raiders. Investment paid off in spades.

But the NFL is looking to change kickoff rules, apparently to add more firepower to the game. A rules change being proposed is to move the spot of a kickoff back to the 35-yard line, but, if a kickoff isn't returned, it comes out to the 25-yard line.

What?

Teams have invested in kickoff specialists. It would seem that, if approved, a player like Ryan Longwell, who can consistently drop kicks to about the 5-yard line, would have more cache given his field goal prowess.

The league is also considering outlawing a wedge on kick returns and not allowing any players on the kicking team more than a 5-yard running start.

It's hard to imagine an NFL without special-teams specialists carving their "against the odds" niche in the subtext of the Book of the NFL. It would seem the league is trying to take away that little slice of lore.

MOSS TAKES

  • The content of the Randy Moss interview was posted in an earlier story, but for those who don't like Randy Moss, consider that he agreed to do an interview with Erin Henderson, a backup when Moss was with the team for his second run, is impressive. For all the bad people say about Moss, he was doing what he has done behind the scenes so many times – doing a solid to help out an underdog. It's unlikely that anyone on the KFAN (or 1500 ESPN or WCCO or pick-your-radio station) would have landed a Moss interview. Moss doesn't like talking to the media. There was no real benefit for Moss to "doing a solid" for Henderson, but he did.

    There is little gray area when it pertains to Moss. Moody? Definitely. Abrasive? Too often for his own good. Despite this writer getting a one-on-one interview with him during his first go-round with the team, when he came back, despite the glint of recognition, when asked if he had a couple of minutes, he consistently said "no." He was much more terse with members of my media brethren, but the chip on his shoulder he came into the league with remains in the twilight of his career.

    He is a polarizing individual. Either you love him or you hate him. The interesting part is that there are few fans that hate him and few media types that love him.

    He was doing a favor for a young athlete looking to build his broadcasting resume. The biggest media names in the Twin Cities couldn't get Moss to come on air and talk from the heart. Erin Henderson did. Henderson got his first scoop – and there aren't many scoops that are bigger.

  • Having listened to the interview Moss gave with KFAN, this writer is becoming more convinced that Moss will go into the Hall of Fame as a Viking, which should be a focal point of the Vikings front office to "make nice" with Moss moving forward. While Moss didn't throw Brad Childress under the bus, he could have, especially given the timing of his release and Chilly's firing. He chose to downplay the friction between them. The Vikings waited years to give anyone No. 84 after Moss left. For years in training camp, one of the first things I looked for was who was wearing No. 84? The only certainty was that he wouldn't make the team. Aundrae Allison got the number briefly and I was actually ticked off about it, because some believed nobody else should ever wear that number, given Moss' contribution to the lore of the franchise. Maybe when Moss is a reluctant first-ballot inclusion in the Hall of Fame, he goes in as a Viking.

  • The ironic part of the Moss-Henderson interview is that Patriots fans are excited about the potential of bringing him back (on the cheap) for another run – and still pocketing the Vikings' third-round draft pick.

    THURSDAY NOTES

  • Offensive tackle Tyron Smith of USC is scheduled to visit the Vikings and Dallas over the next week. The interesting part of that equation is that, in the minds of most draft analysts, Smith is a talent, but not at pick No. 12. The offensive line class of 2011 doesn't have that "must take" guy like Joe Thomas or Jake Long. There will be a handful of O-linemen that go in the first round, but the only possible O-line pick I see the Vikings even remotely taking at No. 12 would be Boston College's Anthony Castonzo. That being said, given the investment (financially) in Bryant McKinnie and through the draft (Phil Loadholt in the second round of the 2009 draft), taking an O-lineman with the 12th pick simply doesn't make good business sense.

  • From the "For What It's Worth" Department, World Wrestling Entertainment, which has often employed NFL players to help put their promotion over the top with their fans, is going to conduct the annual Wrestlemania April 2. Two predictions: Wrestlemania XXVII will be held at Cowboys Stadium next year. Why? Because the WWE loves setting attendance records for facilities and, if its business is going well, will set an all-time attendance record – something it has searched for over the last two decades. Hosting a football game, the stadium can hold 100,000 people, so putting 105,000 wrestling fans in the stadium would set another attendance record for the wrestling giant.

    Prediction Two: If the Minnesota Legislature approves a fixed roof stadium for the Vikings, a future Wrestlemania will come to the Twin Cities. Laugh if you must, but the annual economic impact of Wrestlemania on a host community is in the neighborhood of $40-50 million – for a short week of events. Add the Final Fours that would use the stadium and the likely promise of a future Super Bowl and the cost a new stadium can be defrayed by marquee sports (or sports-entertainment) events. The state's contribution to a new stadium (keep in mind it needs to be a fixed roof) would almost surely be made up simply in big-ticket revenue alone, much less the events great and small that would be conducted there.

  • Prediction 2.5 – Jerry Jones won't own a stadium for long that is called Cowboys Stadium.

  • Sidney Rice made news Wednesday, but it had nothing to do with football. It was in the New York credit card fraud trial of Winsome White, a New York woman involved in a significant identity theft case. According to testimony, Rice purchased several airline tickets for greatly reduced rates by paying cash for tickets obtained through White's credit card fraud. Rice hasn't been implicated in the case, but it isn't "good pub" for a player that could become an unrestricted free agent when the NFL and the players union/trade association reach an agreement.

  • From the "Your 15 Minutes Are Up" Department comes this: Jenn Sterger, the "game hostess" with the New York Jets and the woman at the center of the Brett Favre's off-field dramas last year, is suing her former manager, seeking to retain domain over text messages and photos allegedly sent to her by Favre when he was playing for the Jets in 2008. Sterger filed suit in Hillsborough County (in Tampa, Florida) circuit court – a suit that also asks to invalidate a book agreement with her former manager, Phillip Reese.

    In the filing documents, Sterger claims that Reese plans to use the materials alleged to have been sent from Favre to Sterger as part of a tell-all book. Considering that Reese almost surely didn't receive either photos or suggestive texts from Favre, it seems Sterger could have the upper hand in the court system. Sterger, who got her first taste of fame after becoming an Internet sensation in 2005 for making a Florida State tank top look good, moved into the realm of D-List celebrity when she and Favre became linked in the much-discussed "sexting" scandal. In a "you can't make this up" brainstorming session, the corporation formed for writing the book is called "A Game of Inches."

  • ESPN draft maven Todd McShay, has the Vikings taking QB Andy Dalton in the second round of his latest mock draft.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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