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NFL Announces Rule Change Proposals, Including The Closure Of Famed Belichick-Vrabel Loophole

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Bill Belichick exploited a loophole for seemingly no reason other than entertainment in a Monday night win over the Jets last year. In the playoffs, Mike Vrabel used that same exact loophole to help the Titans prevent a Patriots comeback in a Tennessee victory in Foxboro.

The two head coaches may be the last to ever utilize that little trick, as the league will vote next month to "prevent teams from manipulating the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock is running."

Maybe it will go down as the Belichick-Vrabel rule, a fitting tribute to a teacher-student relationship that played out on a playoff stage.

That was just one of several rule change proposals announced by the NFL on Friday. The full list of proposals:

Proposed by the Competition Committee:

--Expand defenseless player protection to kick and punt returners. This amendment would protect returners who are in possession of the ball but have not had time to be able to avoid or ward off impending contact by an opponent.

--Closing the aforementioned loophole which allowed teams to drain extra time off the clock by committing dead-ball fouls.

Proposed by the Philadelphia Eagles:

--Modify the blind-side block rule to prevent unnecessary fouls.

--Make permanent the expansion of automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any successful or unsuccessful Try attempt.

--Provide an alternative to the onside kick that would allow a team who is trailing in the game an opportunity to maintain possession of the ball after scoring. (Essentially, a fourth-and-15 from the kicking team's 25-yard line.)

--Restore preseason and regular season overtime to 15 minutes and implement rules to minimize the impact of the overtime coin toss.

Proposed by the Miami Dolphins:

--Provide the option to the defense for the game clock to start on the referee's signal if the defense declines an offensive penalty that occurs late in either half.

Proposed by Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers:

--Add a "booth umpire" as an eighth game official to the officiating crew.

--Add a Senior Technology Advisor to the Referee to assist the officiating crew.

Some of the proposals would be more significant than others.

The proposal to give teams the option of running a play -- a fourth-and-15, in essence -- instead of trying an onside kick would dramatically reshape the ending of games. Given the sharp decline in onside kick success following new kickoff rules, such a change would keep trailing teams alive longer in more games.

An adoption to the blind-side block rule that was instituted last year seems to be much-needed, as players were penalized for hits where they were traveling back toward their own goal line, even if they were face-to-face with the player whom they were blocking. That rule was poorly designed and is in desperate need for a reshaping.

The NFL didn't spell out what the Eagles proposed when they sought to "implement rules to minimize the impact of the overtime coin toss," but considering the change the league made a decade ago, it does not seem like a pressing issue. (The Chiefs' proposal to guarantee possession to both teams failed to pass last year.)

And the final proposal, to add a "booth umpire" as an eye-in-the-sky type of safeguard for the officiating crew is probably too radical an idea to be adopted quickly. Nevertheless, it's inclusion as a rule to be voted on next month shows that such an addition could be something the NFL does eventually adopt. Certainly, last year's pass interference review/challenge system failed miserably, so the league may seek to add what many players, coaches and fans consider to be a much-needed safeguard.

None of these rules have been adopted yet. Owners will vote for any changes during their annual meeting, which is schedule to take place May 19-20, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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