Cowboys executive Stephen Jones challenges proposed NFL rule change on ejections for illegal hits

IRVING, Texas — At the NFL’s Winter Meetings in Texas on Wednesday, a proposal was floated regarding, well, a player’s expulsion.

Team representatives have asked the league office to prioritize exploring policy updates regarding the consequences of base hits on an undefended player. Two main possibilities: automatic disqualification and review.

The rule wouldn’t just protect quarterbacks, though the focus on maintaining the most publicized and active position in the league is undoubtedly driving conversation.

“QB goes down on a hit, obviously there’s a flag on the field,” NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said. “Should this player be automatically ejected? Or should it be a reviewable part? It will be a subject of what is reviewed, what should be reviewable.

NCAA rules currently mandate a 15-yard penalty and ejection for targeting, defined as a player making “forced contact with the head or neck of a defenseless player or contacting an opponent with the crown [top] of their helmet.

The NFL defines the penalty more broadly as being triggered when a player “initiates unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture”, which could go through 11 different events. Among them: initiating unnecessary contact on a player in train or just after throwing a pass; a catcher attempting a catch “who hasn’t had time to clearly become a runner”; and a runner in the grip of a tackler whose forward progress has been halted.

Prohibited contact includes “forcibly striking” a helpless player’s head or neck with the helmet, face mask, forearm or shoulder. Illegally launching into a player and ducking your head to make forced contact also breaks the rules.

The instructions are specified. And yet: are the proposed consequences realistic?

No one liked the rough call against Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips (15) in Sunday's game against the Chargers.  The coaches might be able to challenge him in the future.  (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
No one liked the rough call against the Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips (15) in Sunday’s game against the Chargers. The coaches might be able to challenge him in the future. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, one of nine members who sits on the NFL’s competition committee, told Yahoo Sports he opposes an ejection consequence.

“I don’t want to go to college rule, me personally,” Jones said. “Let’s say you play in a playoff game and there’s a controversial call and you lose your player for the game, then it turns out you shouldn’t have. This is where I struggle. I’m all for really giving it a good look before hanging them up. Surely I can fine them if it was wrong, and [more than] fine them if he is a repeat offender.

“I like the consequences. I like responsibility. I just don’t like them in the middle of the game.

Vincent said he thought such an ejection rule would be “very difficult” to implement with the speed of the game. Slow-motion replay clips consistently reveal conduct more worthy of sanction than live arbitration. Should the accidental behavior that accompanies fast physical gameplay always warrant a flag?

“Don’t think it’s in the best interest of the game,” Vincent said. “The game should be called to the field. It’s played on the field. Replay is here to help the clear and the obvious. I think the pursuit of perfection is a dangerous place for the National Football League and, frankly, for refereeing. And that’s what happens with the cameras, replay. You start striving for perfection, which is not a good place to play.”

Jones echoed that sentiment, telling Yahoo Sports he’s a “big proponent of less reviewable things” to “let the game play out.” But he understands why the suggestion is regularly offered.

“There are a lot of people in this league that I respect who say it should be reviewable,” Jones said. “Because a lot of times there’s a hard blow to a guy’s chest and that’s legal but because it looks so hard they throw the flag and people say, ‘well, the flag should to fall.’ So they like it to be reviewable.

“If a guy just does something egregious, like pushing an NFL official down, pushing a coach down…there are things that level up. But the game is so fast.

“Let the game play out.”

Also a top priority for league members at Wednesday’s meeting: enforcement of rude calls from passerby and whether a coach can challenge them. This conversation will continue into the offseason. Vincent disagreed with a penalty imposed on Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips in last Sunday’s game but generally feels the penalty has been called with more accuracy this season.

“The officials, I have to say, were pretty consistent and very specific on that call,” Vincent said. “But they are humans. We will have a time when we disagree, and I mentioned the Chargers-Miami game. I didn’t like that call. We thought that [Dolphins head coach Mike] McDaniel did what we ask coaches to coach and players to actually perform. But I think that’s the discussion.

“We will bring back all the data, when it happens, how often does it happen, how accurate is it? But I look forward to this discussion.

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