One day after announcing seven new rules for the 2016 season, the NFL approved three additional proposals, including two controversial changes that will be enacted on a tryout basis.
The Competition Committee announced a tweak to the Injured Reserve-Designated to Return rule. For the past three seasons, 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. However, players must be on IR for a minimum of least six weeks before they are eligible to come back, and teams are still allowed to select just one player to return.
More controversial are the next two changes, which is why they have been adopted for one season before being reevaluated during the 2017 league meetings.
The first of these rules allows for an automatic ejection if a player is flagged for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a single game. The three penalties that will draw such a flag include:
- Throwing a punch, or a forearm, or kicking at an opponent, even though no contact is made.
- Using abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League.
- Using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams.
Players will be automatically disqualified regardless of whether the penalty is accepted or declined by the opponent. Any penalty occurring during pregame warm-ups will carry over into the game.
The other controversial change is that following a touchback, the ball will be placed at the 25-yard line instead of the 20. Player safety was cited as a reason as they wanted to encourage fewer kickoff returns out of the end zone. However, some speculate that teams will now attempt shorter kickoffs with longer hang time in order to pin the opposition back.