Boca Raton, Fla. — Roger Goodell wasn’t kidding.
The NFL commissioner suggested during Super Bowl week that the league would look at ejecting players after two serious personal fouls in a game. This week at the owners’ meetings, a proposal from the powerful competition committee for what would amount to a “yellow card rule” will be discussed and possibly voted on.
Goodell was not specific about what sort of penalties could lead to ejection. The committee — comprised of owners, coaches, general managers and league personnel, and with input from officials and players — is suggesting two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties would result in expulsion.
The committee broke down those fouls to throwing a punch or forearm or kicking an opponent, even if no contact is made; using abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures to an opponent, teammates, officials or representatives of the league; or using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams.
Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, co-chairman of the committee, said there was much discussion of including such personal fouls as late hits, egregious face-mask penalties, and roughing the passer as potential incidents leading to ejection.
McKay and Troy Vincent, the NFL’s football operations chief, noted that unsportsmanlike conduct penalties rose from an average of 50 over several years to 75 in 2015.
“We definitely talked about both,” McKay said, “and we feel like we have disciplinary ways to deal with the personal foul side. Obviously, we have a system of fining; we have the ability to suspend. … To us, on the sportsmanship side, that’s what led us to this rule. We did talk about the personal foul side. There is that concern that’s raised on the degree of fouls, if you will.”
Such as having two incidental face-mask calls, which are 15-yard penalties, getting a player kicked out.
McKay noted that only twice in a game last season did the same player draw more than one unsportsmanlike conduct flag. One of those is the much-discussed battle between Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Panthers All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman on Dec. 20. Beckham got three such penalties, but he was not ejected.
Both Vincent and McKay stressed that game officials have the power to expel players for any outrageous fouls.
“We will certainly emphasize the fact that in flagrant foul situations, the referee is empowered to have an immediate ejection for one foul,” McKay said. “He doesn’t need to wait for that second foul, and we will definitely make that a point to the officials that if they see that act and they believe it to be flagrant, they are empowered to eject that player from the game.”
At one point, Beckham launched himself into Norman after the whistle had blown. He was flagged, but might a similar act bring an ejection in 2016 if the competition committee’s proposal passes?
“I think if the whistle is blown and it’s a dead ball, then you’re going to end up with an unsportsmanlike conduct foul,” McKay said. “Again, the official, if in his judgment sees it as flagrant, is empowered at that point to eject.”
The rule would be similar to soccer, in which a player who receives two yellow cards — a caution for certain types of fouls — is automatically ejected.
Other areas of on-field play the league is hoping to clean up include hits with the crown of the helmet; low hits on the passer; the quarterback slide; rushing tactics on field goals and extra point kicks; coaches going on the field; and pre-snap movement.
The committee also is asking for a total removal of the chop block — basically when a defender is engaged with a blocker and another blocker hits him low — from the game.
“There have been numerous changes to this rule, such that we found this rule to be really confusing,” McKay said, “and the officials in their comments on rule enforcement, when asked what rule gives you the most pause in enforcing, this always ends up at the top. We don’t get a lot of injuries per year, but we think the position that the players are in just doesn’t appear to be fair, that he’s subject to that low block when he’s fully engaged with an offensive player. So we think it’s time to change the rule.”