For years, the NFL has struggled to get its hands around what should be the most basic of playing rules:
What constitutes a legal catch?
The league will formally address that thorny issue this week at its annual March meetings, when team owners will vote on a proposal by the competition committee that the definition of a catch should be significantly simplified.
No more frame-by-frame analysis to ensure there isn’t any movement of the ball in the receiver’s hands; under the proposed rule, slight movement would be permissible. No more requirement that the receiver maintain possession while going to the ground for the catch to be legal.
The new proposal — which would need at least 24 of 32 votes to pass — stipulates that a receiver must:
- Control the ball.
- Get two feet down (or another body part).
- Make a football move, whether taking another step or reaching the ball toward the goal line or yard marker. Such a football move would not be required if the catch were made in the end zone.
The NFL has spent the past two years deconstructing the current catch rule, then rebuilding it from scratch with the input of current and former coaches and players.
“The committee over the last two months and in particular this week did a phenomenal job of mapping out and really clarifying less is better,” Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said in a conference call Friday.
“We think we got to a good place … We hope that we’ve addressed what the fans and most players and coaches think is something that’s been long overdue.”
Among the more controversial non-catches over the past several seasons include an apparent winning touchdown by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson in 2010, an overruled grab in the 2014 playoffs by Dallas’ Dez Bryant, and a would-be touchdown by Pittsburgh’s Jesse James against New England last season that all but decided home-field advantage in the AFC.
“On catch/no catch, Jesse James would be a touchdown,” said Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee and president of the Atlanta Falcons. “We tried to simplify the rule and make it a very definable, three-step process, which is: control, meaning a clean catch of the ball; two feet down or a body part; and then do anything with the ball that shows it’s a football act. That could be reaching for a goal line like Jesse James did, that could be reaching for a first down line, that could be tucking the ball away.”
The so-called catch committee also spent considerable time on the word “slight” in relation to the allowable movement of the ball.
“What we saw on video, what we heard from the catch committee was that you can still have control but also have movement,” Vincent said. “The term ‘slight’ was something where a receiver could still have control of the ball and there still be movement. That was also something that was addressed in the language of the new proposal.”
Among the other playing rules and league bylaws up for discussion and possible vote at the meetings, which begin Sunday and end Wednesday:
- A rule that would permit assistant coaches to sign contracts with new teams while still working for their old teams. This would have applied to New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who had agreed to become the new coach of the Indianapolis Colts but couldn’t sign the deal until the Patriots’ postseason was over. McDaniels ultimately backed out of the agreement.
- A rule that would eliminate the requirement that teams come back onto the field for a meaningless extra point after a walk-off, game-winning touchdown.
- A rule that would allow the league to use instant replay to review personal fouls such as roughing the passer and hits on defenseless receivers, and another that would allow the league’s head of officiating to make those calls from New York.
- Further clarification of what would end an overtime game. A scenario under the current rules: Team A kicks a field goal, and Team B gets a chance to match. But if Team B is intercepted, the game immediately ends. The new rule would allow that final play to be played to its conclusion. If Team A were to fumble its interception, for instance, and Team B were to recover the loose ball and return it for a touchdown, Team B would win. That scenario has yet to happen in an actual game.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer