INDIANAPOLIS - NFL owners got their major on-field business out of the way quickly Tuesday, leaving them plenty of time to discuss labor strategy.
The 32 owners voted unanimously to approve rules amendments for player safety that include eliminating a player launching himself into a defenseless opponent. A 15-yard penalty will result for anyone who leaves both feet before contact to spring forward and upward into an opponent and delivers a blow to the helmet with any part of his helmet.
Such tackles will also be subject to fines. The NFL cracked down on flagrant hits last October, ratcheting up the amount of fines and threatening suspensions. No players were suspended in 2010 for such hits, but Ray Anderson, the league's primary disciplinarian, has said suspensions will be considered for egregious hits this season.
The definition of a defenseless receiver has been extended. Now, a receiver who has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner even if both feet are on the ground is considered defenseless.
Defenseless players cannot be hit in the head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm or shoulder. The definition of such players now includes those throwing a pass; attempting or completing a catch without having time to ward off or avoid contact; a runner whose forward progress has been stopped by a tackler; kickoff or punt returners while the ball is in the air; kickers or punters during a kick or a return; a quarterback during a change of possession; a player who receives a blindside block from a blocker moving toward his own end zone.
Also, hits to the head of a passer that are not considered "forcible'' blows will not be penalized.
Penalized players are subject to being ejected for flagrant fouls.
"Rulewise, I think the competition committee is clear that we are not trying to change rules, but change the emphasis, and that message has been delivered loud and clear to the players,'' said committee co-chairman Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons. "I was encouraged as a committee member who watched all the video at the end of last year to look at injuries, and I thought the players did a good job of understanding the message and adapting to it.''