Concussions on agenda at NFL owners meetings

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Lions guard Larry Warford dealt with a concussion last season.

Boca Raton, Fla. — One NFL owner said Sunday the league isn’t hiding from its concussion problem, but admitted there was a setback in 2015.

The league announced in January players suffered 271 brain injuries last season, an increase of nearly 32 percent from 2014, but Giants owner John Mara said he’s hopeful the staggering number of concussions in 2015 was just an aberration.

“We have to do more (research),” Mara said Sunday before the start of the league’s annual meetings at the Boca Raton Resort and Club. “We know it’s a long process. We need to understand more about it and particularly how to prevent it.”

Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, acknowledged a connection between football-related head injuries and CTE earlier this month, the first such public admission by the league.

Concussion prevention will again be a topic of discussion among owners this week as the league tries to limit brain injuries.

“I don’t think we’re hiding from it,” Mara said. “I know a lot of people accused us of hiding from it in the past, but I certainly don’t think that’s the case anymore. We’re spending a lot of money trying to get ahead of this thing to try to get some answers.

With Charles, Bills’ savings are Lions’ gain

Mara said the competition committee, of which he’s a part, watched nearly every concussion from the 2015 season to see how they happened. He thinks the kickoff is the most dangerous play, and owners will discuss a proposal this week to move the touchback to the 25-yard line, which would likely reduce teams’ desire to return kicks. The NCAA already has the touchback at the 25, and Mara said he doesn’t think a change in the NFL would result in more pooch kicks to incite returns.

“Most of the coaches that I’ve spoken with don’t think that’ll be the case, but we’ll see,” he said.

Among the most notable rule proposals this year is one that would result in an automatic ejection after a player receives two personal fouls, which would surely be called the Odell Beckham Jr. rule after the Giants star receiver had three personal fouls against the Panthers last year.

Between the competition committee and team submissions, there are 19 proposed rule changes the owners, including Martha Firestone Ford, will vote on this week. The Lions are represented this week by Ford, president Rod Wood, general manager Bob Quinn and coach Jim Caldwell, but they didn’t propose any rule changes as they have in the part.

One proposal from the competition committee would make all chop blocks illegal, which is another safety-related issue. Buffalo proposed coaches can challenge any official’s decision besides scoring plays and turnovers, and Washington wants personal fouls to be reviewable.

As for the concussions, Mara said the league is hoping recent rule changes and the increased emphasis will soon lead to fewer concussions. He said players are becoming more aware of the problem, either taking themselves out of games or calling for medical officials to check on their teammates.

Of course, after the increase in concussions last year, Mara said it’s “something we have to keep pouring money into and studying.”