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NFL 2018 rule changes: An explainer on new anthem policy, kickoff rules, targeting policy

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Breaking down the league’s three newest rules.

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

NFL owners met in Atlanta this week to discuss changes to the league for the upcoming 2018 season. Several topics were on the table, and through Wednesday morning, they have adopted three key changes to league policy. Here’s a recap of what has passed thus far.

New anthem policy

On Wednesday morning, the NFL announced there would be a new policy regarding conduct during the pre-game national anthem. Players will be given the option to stay in the locker room during the anthem or be out there on the field, standing while the anthem plays. If a player chooses to demonstrate on the field during the anthem, their team is subject to a fine.

In addition to that, teams will be given permission to develop their own rule regarding players who do not stand for the anthem. In other words, individuals could be fined or suspended by their own team should the club desire to set forth such rules. Here is the exact wording of the league’s policy, as written in a formal statement from commissioner Roger Goodell:

1. All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

2. The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.

3. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed.

4. A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

5. Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

6. The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.​

In true NFL fashion, however, there is some grey area in what would be described as “respect for the flag and the Anthem.” Steelers owner Art Rooney told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press that he believes holding a fist in the air or linking arms would violate these rules.

If that’s true, owners like Lions’ Martha Ford committed what would now be defined as disrespectful actions toward the anthem:

Since the rule was literally just adopted, we’ll see if the league better defines its current set of rules.

New kickoff rules

The league adopted four new rules regarding the kickoff play, and they could have a drastic impact on the game for the 2018 season. NFL.com provides a nice list of all four:

1. Players on the kicking team cannot line up more than one yard from the point of the kickoff. The previous rule allowed players to line up five yards from the restraining line (typically 35-yard line), allowing them to have more of a running start before the kick.

2. The wedge block has been eliminated. Only players who line up in the setup zone (between their own 40 and opponents’ 45-yard line) can put together double-team blocks.

3. Until the ball is touched or hits the ground, no player on the receiving team may cross the restraining line (typically its 45) or initiate a block. This forces blockers on the receiving team to run back and block, which greatly decreases the chance of an “attack” block that can result in a high-speed collision.

4. When the ball hits the end zone, it’s immediately ruled a touchback. There is no need for a player to down the ball in the end zone to initiate a touchback.

And if you’re more of a visual person, this graphic provided by the NFL clarifies things nicely:

These rules are clearly in place to make one of the most dangerous plays in football more safe. With both sides of the ball pushed closer to the kickoff point, there will (theoretically) be fewer high-speed collisions on the play. Additionally, the elimination of any sort of wedge blocks prevent a single point of attack from coverage teams that often result in big collisions from players looking to simply take out blockers.

The new rules will clearly have some effect on the efficiency of both coverage and return units. Teams will have to adjust their strategies, and the league will review the efficiency of the new rules next year.

New helmet collision rules

During the owners meetings in April, it was clear the league was going to make new rules regarding players’ use of their helmet, including the potential to disqualify a player that violates the rule. This week, they officially adopted the new set of rules. Here is the exact wording from the league:

“It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.”

Interesting to note here that it is not just the defense that is culpable in this foul. It is illegal for any player to do this, and, perhaps more notably, it is illegal to do this anywhere on the field.

As for what constitutes an ejection, here are the rule details:

And the league also provided video examples as what constitutes a foul and what would result in ejection:

Let us know what you think of the rule changes in the comment section below!