NFL unanimously approves ban on ‘hip-drop’ tackles, expands replay challenges

Instant replay equipment is carried on the sidelines before an NFL game.
NFL teams will be allowed a third replay challenge if successful on at least one of two previous challenges under new rules passed at owners meetings.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

The NFL began adopting rules changes Monday morning, including a ban of dangerous “hip-drop” tackles, which a league study determined are responsible for significantly more lower-body injuries than traditional tackles.

Team owners, participating in the league’s annual meetings, also approved a proposal by the Detroit Lions to permit a coach a third replay challenge if successful on at least one of two previous challenges.

As defined in the NFL rule book, a hip-drop tackle is when a defender grabs the runner with both hands or wraps him with both arms, then drags down the offensive player by swiveling and dropping his hips and/or lower body. That can trap the runner’s legs at or below the knee.


“The specific type of tackle where a player literally grabs and then un-weights himself,” said Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee. “He lifts himself in the air and then comes down on either the knee or the ankle.”

NFL executive Jeff Miller said hip-drop tackles occurred 230 times last season, up 65% from the previous year, and resulted in 15 players missing time.

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“The sorts of injuries — high-ankle sprains, ligament injuries, fractures — lead to substantial time off,” Miller said.

According to a league study, those types of tackles are as much as 20 times more likely to cause injuries.

“It’s no longer about watching video,” McKay said. “It’s no longer about having either a player, or trainer or coach account for us how the injury occurred and what we can do to prevent it. It’s about data. It’s about that data tied to that tape, showing us exactly how that injury occurred.”

The rule change was passed unanimously. The foul will result in a loss of 15 yards and an automatic first down.


Before the annual meetings began, the NFL Players Assn. said such a rule change would only lead to confusion.

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“The players oppose any attempt by the NFL to implement a rule prohibiting a “swivel hip-drop tackle,’” the union said in a statement. “While the NFLPA remains committed to improvements to our game with health and safety in mind, we cannot support a rule change that causes confusion for us as players, for coaches, for officials and especially, for fans. We call on the NFL, again, to reconsider implementing this rule.”

On Tuesday, owners are expected to vote on a one-year change to kickoffs, intended to both make the play safer and encourage more returns. The league is considering an XFL-style kickoff in which the kicker is back at the 35-yard line, but the rest of the coverage team is lined up 25 yards forward — a mere five yards from the bulk of the return team.

The idea is that it will be far more difficult for players to gather a head of steam before they collide, presumably leading to fewer concussions. Only 22% of kickoffs were returned during the 2023 season.