EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The NFL owners approved three rule changes this morning by a unanimous vote of 32-0, all closely related to player safety.
The first rule expands the definition of who is considered to be a defenseless player and therefore provided more protection. Receivers who have not yet become a runner, a kicker or punter during a return, and a quarterback following a turnover will now all be considered defenseless players. In addition, any player that is blocked from the blindside (side or behind) while moving towards his own endzone will also be considered defenseless. The rule offers more protection for receivers who are often hit just when their feet hit the ground and they aren't yet able to protect themselves. Players considered defenseless cannot be hit above the shoulders with a helmet, facemask, shoulder or forearm.
The second rule change expands the definition of "launching" to include any player that leaves his feet prior to contact with the opponent and causes helmet to helmet contact. The player must spring up and forward towards his opponent for it to be considered a launch. Illegal hits will be subject to a 15 yard penalty, potential ejection for a flagrant violation and possible fines and suspensions.
The final change gives officials more freedom to determine whether a blow to the head of a quarterback is hard enough to warrant a penalty. In the past, any time a defender made contact with a quarterback's head it was considered a violation. Now officials can forego a penalty if they determine the blow was only grazing or not delivered with a lot of force.
The rule changes continue the NFL's recent efforts to protect their players from injuries, especially concussions.