NFL Reportedly Rethinking Its Roughing the Passer Penalty

Following a marked uptick in roughing the passer penalties through the NFL's first three weeks, the competition committee is wondering how to fix the issue.

NFL ref's roughing the passer call

Image via Getty/Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire

NFL ref's roughing the passer call

The NFL's powerful competition committee is already rethinking the controversial roughing the passer penalty, which was a point of emphasis when the league met back in March, reports's Judy Battista. It seems the calls on Clay Matthews the last two weeks—including one that negated a game-winning interception and touchdown—have alarmed committee members.

The committee is scheduled to speak on a conference call next week because "there's some concern that the officials are going a little bit too far with some of these calls," a source told ESPN.

However, because the rule was instituted as a specious way to protect players—or, just the quarterback—they may be unable to make adjustments until the offseason without triggering an opposite reaction from those who think it's protecting the quarterbacks, the most recognizable faces in the league today:

Through three weeks, there have been 34 roughing the passer calls, which is a steep increase from 2017 (16) and 2016 (20). The rule cited is actually 23 years old, but it was emphasized this past offseason because of complaints from coaches it wasn't being enforced. 

Rule 12 , Section 2, Article 9 prohibits defenders from landing on the quarterback with their full body weight or driving them into the ground with excessive force. If that sounds hard to judge, that's because it is.

The backlash against the renewed points of emphasis is difficult to ignore, especially after a Dolphins defensive lineman suffered an injury in attempt to avoid putting his full body weight on a quarterback:

While talking to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Monday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones—whose son, Stephen, is on the competition committee—equated the new safety emphasis to headgear in boxing or lighter gloves:

“The way I see our future is I see a real serious emphasis on youth football, amateur football. I see it reflected at the high school level. Then a step above that will be the collegiate level and I see a collegiate game that certainly has a lot of finesse in it but is a great game and makes these kinds of adjustments we’re talking about,” Jones said. “But when it comes to pro football, to use a boxing term, that’s when you put the 6 ounce gloves on. That’s when you don’t want to fight with those 10 ounce gloves or you don’t fight with those head gears. Everybody’s being really paid to go out and you’re paid a lot of money to go out and incur those type situations that have more risks in them. It’s real important that pro football distinguish itself as a very physical game relative to the game at college, relative to the game at high school and amateur. That’s very important. Now where to find that balance, that’s one thing but when we get to a point in the future in time you’ll see pro football where they’ve put the 6 ounce gloves on and where the men are playing.”

The dampening of violence—(puts on Richard Sherman mask) against the quarterback—is a step to assuage fears that the systematic injuries to its biggest stars was hurting the NFL's bottom line. It certainly wasn't a concern for players' safety, even with the tangential connection between the sport and CTE. You can see it  when Jones said, "Everybody’s being really paid to go out and you’re paid a lot of money to go out and incur those type situations that have more risks in them."

This view treats players like modern-day gladiators—merely vessels for our collective bloodlust, more so than human beings—but many of the players, including a couple of big-name quarterbacks, agree that the new way the rule is being called is a disservice to fans and the game.

Such is the quagmire facing the competition committee as they attempt to balance between player safety and neutering the inborn violence of the sport that players and fans love.

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