If you haven’t checked in on the NFL since the Super Bowl, you’ve missed quite a bit.
There were seven coaching changes, the league added a 17th game to each team’s schedule, fans are expected back in the stands in every stadium and there are stiff penalties for any player that misses a game due to COVID-19 and is unvaccinated.
Even the preseason has had some odd headlines. The New York Giants had three players retire in four days during training camp. HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” featuring the Dallas Cowboys, revealed that quarterback Dak Prescott had not one, but two surgeries after his gruesome ankle injury last October.
There are also changes to the rulebook, although one of them won’t be a factor when the games start counting. Here’s a look at the new rules that the NFL adopted in April, which take effect this season.
No extra time in preseason games
The competition committee took more of a preventative measure by amending Rule 16 and eliminating overtime from exhibition games.
While it seems like a good idea, considering how excruciating the fourth quarters of exhibition games can be, it isn’t exactly a pressing issue. The last time an NFL preseason game went an extra session was in 2013 when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs couldn’t find a winner in 60 minutes.
A nod to onside kicks?
This is specific to 2021 and hasn’t been adopted for subsequent seasons. On kickoffs, a maximum of nine players on the receiving team are allowed in the “setup zone,” the area of the field between 10 yards in front of the ball and 15 yards from the restraining line. Previously, Rule 6, Section 1, Article 3 stated that a minimum of eight players had to be in the setup zone.
This one isn’t getting a lot of fodder, but the general consensus is that the rule change is meant to help the kicking team on onside kicks.
A bigger role for replay officials
Both the competition committee and the Baltimore Ravens sponsored this one, which enables replay officials to “provide certain objective information to the on-field officials.”
Instant replay is always a lightning rod topic in sports, and this rule change expands the authority of replay officials. Previously, they could only advise the on-field officials about what was specifically challenged. Rule 15, Section 3, Article 9 broadens that scope.
“The Replay Official and designated members of the Officiating department may consult with on-field officials, or conduct a replay review, or advise the game officials on specific, objective aspects of a play when clear and obvious video evidence is present, and/or to address game administration issues, including, but not limited to:
the proper down;
spot of a foul;
the game clock;
completed or intercepted pass;
touching of a loose ball, boundary line, goal line, or end line;
location of the football or a player in relation to a boundary line, the line of scrimmage, the line to gain, or the goal line; or
down by contact (when a player is not ruled down by contact on the field).”
Fouls committed during extra points
Another seemingly minor rule change ensures that all accepted penalties are enforced on successive extra point attempts, regardless of which team commits the foul.
The backstory on this one comes via the Chicago Bears’ 2019 game against the Denver Broncos. The Bears are the ones who asked for this rule change, even though the old rules didn’t cost them a win over the Broncos.
Loss of down for a second forward pass
Tom Brady has done a lot of amazing things in his career, and this whacky play from 2020 inspired the Los Angeles Rams to propose a rule change because of it.
On third-and-10, Brady’s pass was blocked by Rams rookie linebacker Terrell Lewis. Brady caught the ball that had been batted down and tossed it to Mike Evans for an 8-yard gain. Officials threw a flag because Rule 8, Section 1, Article 2 states there can only be one forward pass from behind the line of scrimmage. If the Rams accepted the penalty, it would have been third-and-15, and Brady could have another chance. Declining would mean fourth-and-2.
The rule change now reflects the same punishment for a forward pass ahead of the line of scrimmage: a five-yard penalty and loss of down.
New number, who dis?
After a request by the Chiefs, the NFL altered which jersey numbers are available for which positions. This was done because last year, with expanded practice squads, the Chiefs ran out of available jersey numbers. Kansas City has retired 10 jersey numbers and unofficially retired late running back Joe Delaney’s No. 37.
Here’s a breakdown of the expanded options:
WR: 10-19, 80-89
TE: 40-49, 80-89
DL: 50-79, 90-99
LB: 40-59, 90-99
NEW IN 2021
RB: 1-49, 80-89
WR: 1-49, 80-90
TE: 1-49, 80-91
DL: 50-79, 90-99
LB: 1-59, 90-99
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