NFL owners approved 10 rule changes in late March for the 2016 season that will impact each team in varying degrees.
Discussing all 10 rule changes, General Manager Tom Telesco and Head Coach Mike McCoy were in agreement that the new touchback rule's impact will be the hardest to gauge. Instead of the ball being placed at the 20, touchbacks will now result in the ensuing drive starting at the 25. How that sways a returner's decision to bring the ball out of the end zone or the coaching staff's strategy on where to place the ball remains to be seen.
"It will be really interesting to see how the kickoff rule works this year," Telesco said. "It was put in for player safety, which we're all for, but we don't know how it is going to play out. Is it really going to lower the percentage of kickoff returns? It could, or teams could decide to do more sky kicks and try to pin people deep. That would mean more returns, more contact and more potential injuries. It is a rule designed for player safety, which is good, but we'll see if it changes the game a lot or not. I think the kickoff return is still an exciting part of the game and I'd hate to see it completely taken out. We'll see how it plays out. It is a one year rule to see how it works, and I don't really know how it will yet. We'll probably get a feel for it in the preseason and see what we end up doing."
"This is something we are going to have to look at," McCoy continued. "We are excited about Josh (Lambo's) ability to get a touchback, but then again, depending on coverage units and the game situation, there may be a different strategy going forward in some games. That is something we are going to have to look at leading up to the first game of the season."
Many believe the most controversial rule change is the ejection rule, which states a player will be removed from the game if flagged for two specific types of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a single game. While McCoy is a fan of the rule's underlying principal, he doesn't expect it to result in an increased number of ejections.
"The reason for the rule is to uphold the integrity of the game," he said. "Only one player would have been ejected last year under it, so I don't think we will see players being ejected often. It promotes the sportsmanship of the NFL."
McCoy wasn't surprised to see the extra point rule enacted on a permanent basis after last year's trial run. The league moved the line of scrimmage back to the 15-yard line to make what used to be an automatic kick more difficult. They achieved that goal as there were 71 missed PATs after only 37 misses in the previous six seasons combined.
"That didn't surprise me because I think that was a successful change last year. The percentage of makes were so high, and the league accomplished what they wanted to as they made it a more competitive play."
One change that came out of the blue was a tweak to the Injured Reserve-Designated to Return rule. Since 2012, teams were allowed to name one player eligible to return when placing him on IR. Now, teams do not have to designate a player but can choose from anyone on the list to come back as long as they've spent at least six weeks on IR. Teams can still name just one player to return.
"I think that change is going to help to not have to designate a player early because it's hard to make that decision early on," Telesco explained. "Let's say a player gets hurt in September and you are trying to make determination whether to tag them (to return) right then. Sometimes that injury takes four weeks and sometimes it is eight or 10 weeks, so it was an estimate. It was hard to determine who to tag, especially when you have a few players with similar injuries. At least now we can wait and make that determination down the road. So I think it is going to help with roster management in making the right decision. I think that was a pretty good rule change."