Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

23 May 2017

2017 NFL Rule Changes

At the NFL owner meetings, a few rule changes have been passed for the 2017 season.

1. Overtime is being shortened from 15 minutes to 10 minutes in the preseason and regular season.

The thought process was to limit the number of snaps for teams. Having researched modified overtime quite a bit, I feel like this could lead to more ties if coaches don't take an aggressive approach. We have already seen a lack of aggression to the modified overtime rule changes, where coaches still usually take the ball first, never try an onside kick on the kickoff, and still settle for the short field goal instead of trying to end the game with a touchdown.

2. Instead of cutting from 90 to 75 players, there will only be one deadline to cut to 53-man rosters.

From shows like Hard Knocks, we are used to seeing the final cuts usually leaving a couple of tough decisions, but teams will now have a lot more players to cut at one time after the final preseason game.

3. Two players can now return from injured reserve instead of one.

This is an interesting one, because some teams have foolishly used their single IR designation on a player that just was not essential to the team's success. For instance, the Patriots actually used their return tag on third-string rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett last season, so they couldn't use it for Rob Gronkowski. In 2014, the Saints used their designation on linebacker Khairi Fortt, but ended up releasing him just a few weeks later. A second tag allows teams to be a little more flexible with roster decisions.

In related news, the NFL will also allow more celebrations this season, including using the football as a prop after a touchdown, celebrating on the ground, and group demonstrations. There are still some restrictions however, so good luck expecting referees to police this properly.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 23 May 2017

38 comments, Last at 31 May 2017, 8:41am by rj1


by drobviousso :: Tue, 05/23/2017 - 2:40pm

How many more years do you think it will take the Goodell administration to figure out that the greatest risk to the NFL isn't celebration, catches, or injuries per se. Its the arcane rule-set and resulting arbitrary enforcement that turns too many games into crap shoots without doing much to reduce injury concerns.

Goodell has been called too lawyerly, but I know lots of working lawyers and they all understand this concept. Goodell never went to law school.

by Jimmy Oz :: Tue, 05/23/2017 - 9:04pm

Getting the ball first and driving for 8 minutes to kick a field goal is now good OT tactics. interesting.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 6:47am

I'm guessing 4 tied games next season.

Having said that the tied games last season were some of the most exciting (if you like missed FGs at the end of OT) so perhaps that's what the NFL is hoping for.

by The Ninjalectual :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 2:33am

6 tied games

by bobrulz :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 2:32am

I hate this OT rule change.

How difficult would it be to just give both teams an equal chance at scoring? Why does the NFL keep dancing around this issue?

The other two seem just fine though, and hopefully the more relaxes celebration restrictions hold true.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 6:49am

And for consistency they need to make all the other quarters 10 minutes long now ...

(Actually that would solve a lot of problems with long games on TV and injuries)

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 11:08pm

There's no need for consistency here. OT is inherently an exception, not the rule.

by PatsFan :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 10:15am

This would be trivially solved if the NFL would go back to true sudden death with some "auction" approach to deciding the initial spot and initial possession.

For example, there's the "I slice and you choose" approach:
1) Flip a coin
2) Coach who wins toss gets to decide whether he wants to place the ball or choose possession.
3) Ball-placing coach says where he wants the ball to be placed to start OT (i.e. "Ball starts at offense's 15")
4) Possession-deciding coach says whether he wants to play offense or defense at that spot.
5) Whichever team starts on defense picks the goal they will defend.

Personally, I prefer a "name that tune" approach:
1) Flip a coin
2) Coach who wins toss gets to bid first
3) "I'll take the ball at my own 35". "Well I'll take the ball at my own 20". "Ill take the ball at my own 15". "Ok, you take that ball!"
4) Whichever team starts on defense picks the goal they will defend.

Either way, there's no chance. Start of drive and who has possession is entirely determined by the coaches' preferences. And if a coach wants first possession bad enough he can essentially guarantee it (at the cost of lousy starting field position).

by Guest789 :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 10:21am

I really like the auction approach actually. Never thought of that before. Would have to require it in increments of 5 to avoid tedium I think (19, 18, 17, etc).

by ChrisS :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 10:44am

The auction approach is the best but it is too "complicated" to be actually adopted. New (for me) stupid overime suggestion, shoot-outs. The possibliites are endless, QB+WR vs 2 defensive players (2 mississippi rush), QB+WR vs 1 DB (5 second shot/pass clock), RB vs LB, RB+OL vs 2 Defensive players or the ultimate choice-the Placekicker shoot-out.

by drobviousso :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 10:56am

Instead of the coach doing the bidding, the other team gets to pick the player to do the bidding. You know you want to see two overly aggressive hotheads doing this instead of Andy Reid and Jason Garrett.

by Jimmy Oz :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 7:08pm

Give both coaches (or whoever) buzzers like family feud and count up from 0 on the score board and the first coach to buzz in takes the ball from that yard line.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 11:10pm

I can never understand why some people think that introducing a ridiculously complicated decision-making process will improve the game.

by ChrisLong :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 10:10pm

I agree, the college system is much preferred. Start from the 45 to make it a little harder, both teams are required to go for two from the first TD, go until there's not a tie at the end of an OT.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 11:11pm

I hate the college rules.

by rj1 :: Wed, 05/31/2017 - 8:41am

Another vote for "I hate the college rules".

by dryheat :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 11:47am

I see nothing wrong with the current overtime rules, or the previous overtime rules. However, I think the simplest thing would be to continue play in the fourth quarter. Instead of a team running on to the field to try a Game-winning field goal at the end of regulation (and remember, that's the scenario that was to be avoided like Tara Reid at a rookie quarterback convention in overtime), the offensive time would continue it's drive. The defensive team has more time to play defense and force the long FG or punt or get the turnover.

by Theo :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 8:57pm

yeah continue the game as if it were a 5th quarter.
Missed a FG? The other team gets the ball there.
Tied the game with a FG? Good, kick off.
Went for it on 4th and 2 on the opp 5? The other team gets the ball there.
Continue - no flip coin explanation of the rules and all.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 7:45am

I can remember suggesting the '5th quarter' many years ago.

The big downside is that if you get the ball back at the 2-min warning why go to hurry-up? You won't you'll just play for the 5th quarter.

So the whole excitement of 2-min offense will be killed.

Is that an entirely bad thing? I'm not sure - but I think it probably is.

I continue to believe that the original OT format was best for the job given that each team already had a chance to win the game in regulation.

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 11:42am

Yeah, but if you kick a FG in the 5th quarter you have to give the ball back to the other team. If you do it in the 4th, you win the game. So the motivation is still there.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 11:47am

Ok that makes sense.

I hadn't quite grasped it fully.

And I guess it's only relevant when a team takes over in a tied situation. If they're losing at 2-min warning they still need to drive down the field to force 5th.

by Theo :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 2:36pm

yeah if you keep the "other team gets the ball too" thing then you'll want to finish it in the 4th.

by dryheat :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 11:50am

Third string quarterbacks can become backup quarterbacks very quickly. I think Belichick made the right move designating Brissett to return. And that's before you get into things like the value of practice reps for a young QB.

I'm all in favor of the second IR-return slot, though. I thought it was ridiculous when the coach had to declare at the time of injury which player was eligible to return.

by jtr :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 5:06pm

I don't understand why they don't set up IR like other leagues do. Once a player goes on IR, he has to stay there a certain amount of time (maybe 4 weeks, or 8 since the NFL does everything the most draconian way possible), after which he can be reactivated once healthy. Period. Why would you need to set a limit on the number injured players who are allowed to return? I honestly don't see any reason for it. The fans want to see the best players on the field, not on the inactive list because the team ran out of designated-for-return tags.

by ChrisLong :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 10:15pm


by Jerry :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 1:42am

The issue has always been teams using IR as a way to stash extra players. (After the first padded practice of camp, everyone's hurt to one extent or another.) That's why guys can't practice, and there are limits on how many can come back.

by The Ninjalectual :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 2:43am

Is that a real issue anymore? Not since free agency IMO

by jtr :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 8:26am

As long as you set the time period long enough, there's no incentive to stash a guy there unless he's legitimately injured. I think 4 weeks is enough to do the trick, where you wouldn't put a guy on there who might be ready to play in a week or two. Plus, the benefit of that open roster spot is fairly small; it's not like you're going to willingly go without a starter for 4 weeks just because you really want to get a look at that practice-squad linebacker. And once the injured player comes back, you still have to make room for him, which means exposing somebody on the active roster to waivers in order to put him back on the practice squad. I think there are already enough disincentives built in to keep teams from having much to gain for gaming the system.

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 11:45am

The incentive to stash players is you have a bigger practice squad. And if you make a rule that players on IR can't practice it creates a real problem for players you legitimately want to bring back.

by jtr :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 3:32pm

I don't think any of the other major sports have issues with uninjured players sitting on IR to free up roster spots. And those other sports have substantially smaller rosters, so roster spots should be at more of a premium. Why would the NFL be different?

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 4:46pm

I don't know about other sports in such detail, but if teams could place a young guy on IR and have him practice with the team all year with an option to tender him as a RFA, we'd see a lot of it. Why the league doesn't want that, I'm not sure. Might as well ask why the practice squad is limited to five, while we're at it. Maybe it's a concession to the players in the collective bargaining agreement.

by Jerry :: Fri, 05/26/2017 - 5:53am

Other sports have farm systems, so there's space for excess players.

"Why the league doesn't want that, I'm not sure."

If the Bears (to choose a random example) have a handful of prospects on IR, they're unavailable to improve any other team. That's a team-vs.-team issue, not labor.

by dryheat :: Fri, 05/26/2017 - 8:04am

It's absolutely a labor issue. Instead of cutting a guy and letting him test free agency and get another job, the team is reserving him for their future use.

One can consider it circumventing the players' rights to free agency.

by ChrisS :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 12:05pm

Perhaps set it at half the remaining games with a minimum of 5 games.

by nat :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 5:13pm

I usually am skeptical of the league changing rules. They so often get things wrong, have bad motives, or just make things worse.

In this case (shortening regular season OT to ten minutes), they may have improved things. A few more ties in the regular season may actually make the playoff races more interesting. Anything that reduces the number of times we have to go deep into the tie-breakers is a good thing, in my opinion anyway.

Besides, shortening OT does not harm any of the usual issues people have with OT. The new format already makes the coin toss a very minor factor in determining the winner. The first team with the ball will naturally have at least as many drives as their opponent, and might end the game with an opening drive TD. But with the restriction that a first drive FG does not end the game, the possibility of an extra drive does not translate into an unfair advantage. In fact, since 2013, it's been no advantage at all.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 11:14pm

I agree. There's nothing wrong with ties. Ties are simply an acknowledgement that two teams played equally well at a certain time. The only real need for tiebreakers is during the playoffs.

by The Ninjalectual :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 2:47am

Easing up on the celebrations was an EXCELLENT rule change. You'll see. The effects will probably start off slow, but once players have seen how the rule is enforced we'll start seeing entertaining and innovative joy

by LionInAZ :: Sat, 05/27/2017 - 12:23am

The problem with celebrations was that they became planned choreographic events, not spontaneous outbursts. One had to wonder whether players spent more time rehearsing endzone dances than on executing plays.