New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff,

The NFL’s annual spring owners meeting has concluded, and with it has come some head-turning developments. Some of them you may classify in the “oddities” section. But in that same vein, perhaps you’ll find them perfectly appropriate for the people running this league.

For one, owners have decided that the issue deserving of the most sweeping reform and complex changes was the national anthem. The new rule changes announced on Wednesday aim to curb on-field protests by players or any other team/league personnel, but won’t necessarily put an end to protests altogether. There’s also the matter of kickoff rules, as well as future locations for major NFL events.

Here’s a roundup of what went down at the NFL’s spring meeting this week, with some quick takeaways and a reminder of other rule changes coming up in 2018.

Team & league personnel will now be subject to fines as part of the NFL’s new national anthem policy.

Nov 12, 2017, Denver, CO, USA: New England Patriots guard Ted Karras and quarterback Tom Brady and guard Joe Thuney during the National Anthem before the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field. Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

This new policy will widely be framed as a “compromise” between the league and players. But in actuality, it’s an attempt by the league to reach a compromise with President Donald Trump and the anger he re-ignited among the many NFL fans in his voter base. The players have not really been compromised with at all here, as evidenced by the NFLPA’s response. All that’s happened is it will be harder for them to protest the anthem, an act that was never banned to begin with.

For the league to truly get its wish, the policy would also have to include some deals with photographers and/or TV networks. The NFL certainly wouldn’t want to show players protesting during the anthem in another part of the stadium. The digital media machine can’t be totally stopped in that regard, despite the league’s best efforts. So expect continued protests and some of them to get captured and go viral.

Those who objected to the anthem protests will likely continue to voice their displeasure. And those who protest or support the protests will only continue to do so as well. In other words, this isn’t likely to change much at all. Unless the league can somehow fool TV viewers with the classic “If a free falls in a forest…” theory.

New kickoff rules will make kicks more like punts and aim to reduce high-speed collisions between players.

The league has approved a series of changes to kickoffs that are designed to limit the violent collisions that characterize blockers barreling toward each other.

Players on the kicking team now must line up within one yard of the point of the kick, meaning they can no longer get a five-yard running start before kicks. Players will also be more spread out, with at least two players required both outside the numbers and between the numbers and hash marks. In addition, at least five players will need to line up on each side of the ball.

“Wedge” blocks are also outlawed as part of the new kickoff rules. Only players lined up in the “setup zone”, defined as the kicking team’s 40-yard line and the receiving team’s 45, can execute double-team blocks. But since there’s also a “no blocking zone” within the first 15 yards of kicks, and because kicking teams will be so spread out, these kinds of blocks will be virtually eliminated.

This could be the most interesting rule change of the 2018 season as it pertains to the Patriots and how they’ll try to find legal ways to exploit them.

Nashville will host the 2019 NFL Draft, while Arizona and New Orleans will host Super Bowls LVII and LVIII, respectively.

Nashville has a well-earned reputation as one of the most fun cities in America to visit, Arizona has done well with past Super Bowls, and New Orleans is New Orleans. Not much needs to be said about these selections. All strong-to-quite-strong. And the selection of Nashville for the draft signals the league moving even further in the direction of turning the event into a weekend-long party, a destination.

All ejections are now reviewable.

Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles hits Brandin Cooks of the New England Patriots during the second quarter of Super Bowl LII. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles hits Brandin Cooks of the New England Patriots during the second quarter of Super Bowl LII. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Essentially, officials will be able to use video review to confirm or reverse any ejections that take place. The impetus for this change, ostensibly, was the league’s new rule regarding helmet hits.

Starting in 2018, players can be flagged and subject to potential disqualifications if they lower their helmets to initiate contact. Al Riveron’s team was already approved to request ejections on penalties that the on-field officials may have missed or determined was not ejection-worthy. Now, they will also be able to look at ejections handed down to determine if they were the correct calls. That’s for all ejections.

The helmet rule change has disaster potential. Officials may be able to throw flags on just about every snap, based on the language of the rule. Players on both side of the ball lower their helmets quite frequently. It’ll be interesting to see how strictly the rule is enforced, and how big the increase in ejections will be.

While more replays may lead to more ejections that are deserved (and correct the undeserved ones), it also means, well, more replays. Which have arguably been the main culprit of any and all pace-of-play issues. But ultimately, this change will likely delight Bill Belichick, who has lobbied in the past to make all penalties reviewable.

Back in March…

A New England Patriots helmet rests on the turf prior to a preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

A New England Patriots helmet rests on the turf prior to a preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

— The league approved new, simplified catch rules. The changes may lead to more catches on plays that were reversed in prior seasons. But they’ll also be more open to interpretation by the officials, and may not bring anyone closer to the answer of the age-old question, “What is a catch?”

— Targeting rules were originally approved. The only change that came in the May meeting was to make ejections for illegal helmet contact reviewable, in addition to any other ejection.

— Teams no longer need to kick the PAT or take a knee if they score a touchdown at the end of regulation. This is a good change for teams and players, since doing so was wholly unnecessary. It became painfully obvious when the Vikings shocked the Saints with Stefon Diggs’ last-second touchdown in the NFC Divisional Playoff.

— Penalties for illegal batting and kicking of the football now fall under the same rule.

— In overtime, if the first team with the ball scores a field goal and the ensuing possession by the other team results in a turnover, the down will be run to its conclusion. This includes any points scored on such plays.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at