Just a week or two ago, it seemed near-certain changes would be coming to the NFL’s instant replay rules as a result of the fallout from last month’s NFC title game between the Saints and the Rams.
But after visiting with a number of sources at the NFL scouting combine last week, the way we hear it, it is now better than 50-50 that the NFL’s 32 owners are unlikely to reach any consensus, let alone gather the 24 votes necessary to make changes to instant replay, and some folks might instead push officiating changes.
Contrary to what many fans believe, there are a number of folks in the NFL, including Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, who don’t believe instant replay is the answer to making the game better.
By now you’ve probably heard the only change Gruden wants to replay is to “get rid of it altogether,” and he is not alone.
Nonetheless, our sources say there are nowhere near enough votes to fulfill Gruden’s wishes either, but there are more than enough coaches and general managers who share Gruden’s belief that it is not the answer to what ails the game.
One NFL owner told us last week that after looking back on the replay of the non-pass interference call that sent Saints fans into delirium following the team’s overtime loss to the Rams, he saw at least two other blatant penalties on the play — one on each club.
Therein lies the concerns of a number of team owners, many among the “old guard,” if you will, that expanding the use of instant replay will have unintended consequences that could do more harm than good for the game.
A lot of those same owners are stinging right now from the regular criticism they’re enduring for the rules changes made to personal fouls and roughing penalties intended to try and protect their players – principally the quarterbacks – that currently have fans, coaches and players alike up in arms over the damage it’s doing to the integrity of the game.
We’re hearing that the competition committee is and will be reviewing all kinds of options to try and remedy the kind of mistake that was clearly made in the non-call against the Rams, but the there is nothing on the table yet that could garner anything near the 24 votes required to make changes. Moreover, we're told that the majority of owners have no intentions of voting for anything that might backfire on them the way their new safety rules are right now.
It might not be the majority, but a solid plurality of owners will refuse to vote for anything that seems likely to open them up to new issues. Chief among them is what happens if they expand the use of replay and it begins to uncover multiple infractions that weren’t flagged, which no one was aware of until looking at the replay but should have been called.
The owners would like to fix the problem that came out of that Rams-Saints game, but the way we hear it they are currently nowhere near an answer they believe will work.