New changes to the NFL catch rule

Mar 20, 2018, 10:14 AM | Updated: 10:47 am
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Cowboys WR Dez Bryant saw a pivotal catch overturned in a playoff game against the Packers. (AP)

Good news, Cowboys fans: under the NFL’s new proposed catch rule, Dez Bryant’s pivotal play in a playoff game against the Packers would be ruled a catch.

The bad news? That decision is three years too late.

Still, the NFL undoubtedly hopes its efforts to simplify the catch rule this offseason will help the league avoid similar mistakes in the future. Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, spoke to The Washington Post about the proposed rule changes Tuesday.

“Slight movement of the ball, it looks like we’ll reverse that,” Vincent told The Post. “Going to the ground, it looks like that’s going to be eliminated. And we’ll go back to the old replay standard of reverse the call on the field only when it’s indisputable.”

What is a catch?

Here’s what’s changing, according to the report:

A player no longer needs to “survive the ground.” The most infamous of these two examples are the receptions by Cowboys’ wide receiver Dez Bryant (seen here) and Steelers’ tight end Jesse James (seen here, in 2017). In both cases, a catch that initially appeared to be complete was later overturned. The rulings directly impacted the final score of each game and were met with criticism. Vincent told The Post that both plays would, under the revised rule, be catches.

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A player needs to demonstrate control of the football. The league will focus on its earlier definition of controlling the football. According to the NFL rulebook (Sec. 2, Art. 7), a player is in possession of when he has the ball in a firm grip and is inbounds (by having both feet inbounds, or a body part other than his hands to the ground within the boundary lines).

Of note, ESPN’s Kevin Seifert told 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton the rule may still see some editing after this step, since the league isn’t likely to get rid of the timed aspect of the rule. Doing so would make it difficult to determine the timing of a fumble or to define when a receiver is no longer defenseless.

“If they don’t (have that), I think they’re basically swapping debates,” Seifert said. “Instead of a debate about whether they had control of the ball throughout the process of the catch, you’re debating whether they had control of the ball at all. I think that they’ll end up with some kind of timeframe that’s just something natural. It’ll boil down to, ‘You’ll know it when you see it,’ but it’s not going to an instantaneous catch the second you have both feet inbounds.”

A catch will only be overturned with indisputable video evidence. If a player, on video replay, is shown to be bobbling the football and doesn’t have firm control, the catch may be overturned. Any “slight movement of the football in the receiver’s hands” on video replay would not result in an incompletion.

These changes are a long time coming. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in January voiced the league’s intent to simplify the rule, which had by then garnered plenty of criticism from fans and players alike. The sentiment was echoed by Falcons president and Chairman of the NFL’s Competition Committee Rich McKay during an interview with Clayton in February.

“In my mind, we’ve begun to torture the rule a little bit, the same way we’ve done it in some other rules,” McKay told Clayton.

“We will try to make it simple, we will try to make sure you clearly understand it, and that we don’t just continue to move because of replay.”

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