What rules would you change? NFL legends, experts voice their opinions

The Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills meet at midfield for the overtime coin toss.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills meet at midfield for the coin toss to determine possession to start the overtime period of their playoff game Jan. 23 in Kansas City, Mo.
(Reed Hoffmann / Associated Press)

As great a game as football is, there are always ways to improve it.

For instance, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh has floated the idea of tweaking overtime so that instead of beginning the extra period with a coin toss, the fourth quarter simply rolls into overtime. So if a team has a third and four at midfield as the clock expires with the score tied, that team simply continues with the same down, distance and field position in overtime.

It’s an interesting concept — overtime has been the subject of much scrutiny in recent years — although a formal proposal of that surely would get a lot of pushback. For instance, some people would argue that would bleed the two-minute drama from games. Why would a team take risks to win at the end of regulation if it knew it could just play out the clock and keep going?

Regardless, Harbaugh was merely toying with the idea, and there’s a lot of that proposed tinkering that goes on every season and offseason.


With that in mind, The Times asked a collection of people associated with football about an NFL rule or rules they would like to change.

They had a wide range of responses:

Steve Young

The Hall of Fame quarterback believes pass-interference calls can be too punitive on a defense, particularly when a flag leads to an offense picking up a huge piece of real estate.

“Pass interference is just out of whack. The supreme talent is out there being tested. There’s no talent to just popping up a lollipop bomb on the game’s last seconds and some goofball little thing that’s ticky-tack happens and you gain 40 yards. It’s just not right.

Chargers cornerback Deane Leonard, left, is called for pass interference while defending Rams wide receiver J.J. Koski.
Chargers cornerback Deane Leonard, left, is called for pass interference while defending Rams wide receiver J.J. Koski during a preseason game Aug. 13 at SoFi Stadium.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“You say, what about egregious pass interference? It still feels like the net of all that I watch, they’re crap yards that are getting gained. They’re not earned. They’ve got to come up with something that reflects more of the talent level that’s put at risk rather than some guy whipping up a bad long ball that has no chance of having it work out. Then it’s, ‘Well, look at that! We have 43 yards!’ It makes the game less reflective of the talent and the skill level and the competition. Once you say it’s 15 yards like in college, then defenses can get bolder and it forces offenses to raise their game.”

Tony Dungy

The Hall of Fame coach takes issue with the rules that impose strict limits on players practicing in pads.


“Let the coaches coach and practice their teams the way they need to practice. I’ve talked to these guys, and they say: ‘We’ve got to take three days off. We can’t practice hitting twice in a row in pads.’ I understand what they’re trying to do in making it safer. But I think we’ve legislated some of the coaching out of the game. Yes, I need to have some parameters in preparing my team, but don’t make me coach like everybody else coaches.

“I’ve talked to a lot of coaches, especially defensive coaches, who tell me, ‘If I have a problem during the season, I can’t really get it fixed because I can’t practice enough, or hard enough to fix some of my technical problems.’

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“Unlike the old days, offenses now have the advantage coming out of training camp. If I’m a quarterback, I can take my whole group to Duke or Phoenix, and we can throw balls all over the place. Defenses can’t do that. Now I come into training camp and practice, and I can’t practice enough to catch up. I know my first two weeks on Sunday night I’m going to be complaining about bad tackling and bad fundamentals on defense. It’s just a product of the way we have to practice now.”

Mike Carey

Although he has retired from the NFL, the longtime referee still keeps close tabs on the rules and trends of the game. He has a few ideas that would help defenses.

“You’ve got to keep making it safer, and I would take low blocks completely out of the game. Both the offense and defense think there are times when you’ve got to go after somebody’s knees. That’s not needed. Athletes, no matter how good they are, they are going to pay for it later in life. Why do they allow that? So it makes an offensive coordinator’s job a little easier? The legal blocks in the target zone are devastating enough to satisfy anybody who likes the game for its collisions. So we don’t need low blocks.

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“If I was a fan of defense or a defensive coordinator, what I would like the league to do is make the offensive tackles get up on the line of scrimmage. Because if you watch it now, the offensive line is the shape of a stealth bomber with the tackles bent off the line of scrimmage. That makes it incredibly more difficult for the defensive ends because it takes an angle away. Now it protects the quarterback more, so that’s probably why they’re not strict about getting the tackles up on the line of scrimmage.


“I’d get rid of illegal contact. You already have the best athlete on the field in the cornerback. What he can do going backward is unbelievable. That would give the defense a better leg up.”

Joe Buck

The play-by-play announcer, who this season makes the move from Fox to “Monday Night Football” on ESPN, believes the league can further streamline the process of instant-replay reviews.

“To me, it feels like the instant-replay rule works a little quicker in college football than it does in the NFL. If something needs to be reviewed, I think college football has the ability to do that without a coach having to be involved. If something looks wrong, it shouldn’t be up to the coach to challenge. That stuff should be taken care of. The NFL is kind of getting there with this expedited replay where they can overrule what is an obvious call quickly instead of waiting around. There’s a lot of dead time. There’s a lot of worrying about freeze-framing everything. It has become too detailed, and the delays can become too long and unnecessary. Flag, flag, flag, look at it, look at it, look at it interrupts the flow of a game.

Referee Alex Kemp watches instant replay in front of Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
Referee Alex Kemp watches instant replay in front of Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who challenged a play during a preseason game against the Detroit Lions on Aug. 28.
(Matt Durisko / Associated Press)

“If it looks like a touchdown or it looks incomplete, it probably should be. It’s asking a lot of the television audience and their patience when this stuff gets so detailed. When the flow of the game gets disrupted to the point where it gets so bogged down with a certain replay, and they’re splicing different angles together like the Zapruder film, it gets to be too much.”

Tim Brown

The Hall of Fame wide receiver takes issue with a rare but somewhat controversial penalty called on ballcarriers who lower their heads when making contact.


“I’ve only seen it called a few times during a season, but it’s like the worst call ever. What do you want a guy to do, run with his head up? Expose his whole upper body? It’s so crazy. You’ve got to protect yourself, and the only way to do that is to get your pads over your knees. They want everybody to run like Eric Dickerson with that straight-up running style. But you don’t know of any other great runner, be it receiver or running back, who had that style. It’s for a reason.

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“Eric would put those knees in your face so it made it hard for people to get to him. But you think about the Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smiths of the world, nobody ran like that. That’s what you’re taught. I grew up as a running back, and one thing they taught you is when you get to that hole, you better have your pads over your knees because something’s coming. You may not see it coming, but it’s coming.”

Al Michaels

The legendary play-by-play man, now working Thursday night games for Amazon Prime, would tone down the in-stadium antics.

“The league is so concerned about making the in-game presentation as good as television. TV is now a better way to watch the game than to be there live. All of these stadiums have tried to enhance the experience, and they have been able to do it with things like the video board at SoFi Stadium. It’s off-the-charts fantastic.

“But when I see that sign at any sports event that says, ‘Make noise,’ I’m thinking, what do you mean make noise? What does that mean? That has nothing to do with the game. I don’t want to sound like an old codger, but the crowd should respond to what’s happening in a game.

A fan cheers from the upper deck at SoFi Stadium.
A fan cheers from the upper deck during a preseason game between the Raiders and Rams on Aug. 21, 2021, at SoFi Stadium.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

“When I go into stadiums these days, and in at least half of them, what gets me crazier than a loon is when I hear the PA announcer scream, bellow out the elongated, ‘Thirrrrrd dooooown!’ I can’t take it. What are you trying to do? If your home team is on defense, are you trying to jam the opponent’s signals? That’s not going to do it. All it does is create a headache for people.”

Mike Martz

The offensive guru and former coach of the St. Louis Rams believes the most effective rule might be: Leave the game alone.

“I was on the competition committee for a number of years, and here’s what would happen: Some head coach would lose a game because of some situation, then we’d end up making a rule for it. And you end up putting bubble gum on all these little holes. It’s distorted the game so bad. And the accumulation of all these little changes will change the game dramatically over 20 years.

“Just live with it. Just live with the rules that we’ve all played by. Obviously there have been some great rule changes, cutting the linemen and stuff like that. But 20 years from now, this won’t be a game that we even recognize.”