Rick Smith on 2016 NFL rule changes

The NFL owners approved seven rule changes on Tuesday and added three more on Wednesday. The most notable including the elimination of chop blocks, modification of the horsecollar flag, and a one-year trial for automatic ejection of players receiving two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.

The league's competition committee submitted 19 proposed rule changes at the annual owners meeting this week in Boca Raton, Florida.

Texans general manager Rick Smith serves on the competition committee, comprised of eight members of the NFL (head coaches, general managers, and owners) and led by chairman Rich McKay, CEO and president of the Atlanta Falcons.

In an exclusive interview with Texans Radio, Smith shared insight behind some of the proposed rule changes by the competition committee.

Rule: All chop blocks will be illegal.

Smith describes a chop block as "a dangerous, dangerous play" that can effectively end a player's career. It doesn't exist at any other level of football and shouldn't in the NFL either. So why has it taken so long to eliminate chop blocks from league rules?

"We've looked at that block for a number of years and we have been reluctant to take it out for fear about what it might do to the running game," Smith said. "The truth of the matter is that you can still run the ball and not have a guy be engaged and have a guy have a free shot at his lower legs so we thought it needed to come out and so I'm glad that it was voted the way it was."

Coaches may have to adjust their schemes to the new rule. The competition committee has to consider the implications of eliminating chop blocks and how it will affect an offensive lineman's strategy.

"When you run the zone scheme, defenses the way that they defend it, is that they'll have the defensive linemen not allow those offensive linemen to get up to the second level to the linebackers," Smith said. "That's one of the things that's concerning from the standpoint of defensive holding with this because when we look at all these rules, we always look at what we call the unintended consequences. So what you don't want is you don't want increased defensive holdings."

Ultimately, the rule change will require some adjustments from coaches, players, and officials but it's really about player safety.

"We've got to coach it a little bit differently," Smith said. "We've got to make sure our officials are paying close attention to that. But the truth of the matter is, and so many of these rule changes and things that we contemplate, player safety has to trump everything. And in this case, it does and so that's why we proposed it and I'm glad it passed."

Rule: Expands the horse collar rule to include when a defender grabs the jersey at the name plate or above and pulls a runner toward the ground.

Smith, who has served on the competition committee for the past eight or so years recalls the origin of horsecollar rule. It's been modified over the years, first by eliminating the immediacy of the pull inside a player's collar and now by the location of where the defender grabs.

"What we were seeing last year is the mechanics of the potential injury are very similar if the hand is inside the collar or inside the shoulder pad, as well as right at the top of the jersey and the nameplate area," Smith said. "We had a few of those instances this past year where technically, it wasn't a foul but the mechanics were the same and so what we try to do is we try to just address that."

Rule: Permanently moves the line of scrimmage for extra point attempts to the defensive team's 15-yard line, and allows the defense to return any missed try.

The NFL changed the rules for extra points just prior to the 2015 season for a one-year trial basis. This week, the owners made that change permanent. With a near perfect success rate (99-plus percent) before the rule was modified, the competition committee was seeking a way to make the extra point more, well, competitive.

"If you look at historically, in years past, the extra point was about a 94 some odd percent play so that's what the target was," Smith said. "And so we moved it to 33 because, historically speaking, that was the number and sure enough last year, the number was a 94 percent. So it's just incredible how predictable some of the statistics are."

Here's the current list of new rules that will be implemented for the 2016 season:

1.  Permanently moves the line of scrimmage for Try kicks to the defensive team's 15-yard line, and allows the defense to return any missed try.

2. Permits the offensive and defensive play callers on the coaching staffs to use the coach-to-player communication system regardless of whether they are on the field or in the coaches' booth.

*3. Makes all chop blocks illegal. *

4. Disqualifies a player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. Amended to one-year only.

5. Changes the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line. Amended to one-year only.

6. Expands the horse collar rule to include when a defender grabs the jersey at the name plate or above and pulls a runner toward the ground.

7. Makes it a foul for delay of game when a team attempts to call a timeout when it is not permitted to do so.

8.  Eliminates the five-yard penalty for an eligible receiver illegally touching a forward pass after being out of bounds and re-establishing himself inbounds, and makes it a loss of down.

9. Eliminates multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession.

10. Teams do not need to designate a player to return when placing him on short-term IR.  with designation to return. Only one player can return after the full six weeks, but it can be any player placed on injured reserve.

For any rule change to pass, it must receive at least 24 of 32 votes.

The complete interview with Rick Smith can be heard on Thursday's Texans All Access at 6 p.m. CT on SportsRadio 610 or via HoustonTexans.com.

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