New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff,

The NFL’s new helmet rule, which is perhaps not causing as much controversy as it should be, is already being tweaked. The newest reported addition to the rule may make it better, but it could also lead down a confusing, complicated road that the league was trying to avoid in the first place.

Starting in 2018, the NFL will more heavily legislate helmet contact, with a focus on prohibiting players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact with opponents. In addition, there’s been a modification to the description of unnecessary roughness, which is how violations of the new helmet rules will be classified. It was previously written as “using any part of a player’s helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily.” The last three words, “violently or unnecessarily,” have been removed from the interpretation, meaning that incidental contact could be legislated the same way as hits delivered with more malicious intent.

But, as reported on Friday by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, there’s a new note that became an “11th-hour addition” to the unnecessary roughness rule, which reads: “This provision does not prohibit incidental contact by the mask or the helmet in the course of a conventional tackle or block on an opponent.”

This appears to ensure that offensive linemen will be free to execute blocks on defensive linemen, and that defenders will be able to attempt to plow through them, without the fear of drawing flags for crashing their helmets into each other – something that happens on every play of every game.

The inherent problem, however, is that the league is already making tweaks and changes to what started as a broad rule with simplified language. The original intent was, ostensibly, to avoid the same problems that the league has had with modifying the catch rule in recent years. But similar modifications have already started happening. Officials will now have to differentiate between incidental and deliberate contact with the helmet, in real-time.

As Florio and Deadspin’s Dom Consentino have written extensively on the subject, these new helmet rules have a chance to fundamentally change the way NFL football is played, and not necessarily for the better. The addition at least gives hope that there won’t be flags flying on every single play, but it should also concern fans that there are already additions being made in the first place.

The rule itself has been a potentially huge problem since the moment it was created, especially in terms of the pace of play during games and the league’s overall entertainment value. The additions have the potential to only make it more convoluted. It’s the latest development in a still-changing rule that should be getting more attention.

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