SANTA CLARA — Between the National Anthem controversy, Colin Kaepernick’s collusion case and the new, yet-to-be-understood helmet rule, the NFL has turned football the game into an afterthought just weeks before the regular season.
“What’s more NFL than that?” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman asked reporters Wednesday in the 49ers auditorium. “That’s what the NFL is known for, doing something that takes the attention away from the game. And the game actually has been played great, but the catch rule, this helmet thing — it’s what we do.”
The NFL created this helmet controversy to fix a problem, but seems to have created a much bigger one in the process.
The original problem was simple: Players who lead with their helmets expose themselves to spinal compression fractures. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered one last season. He still has trouble walking and may never play football again. That’s tragic and bad for a league that wants to make football safer.
Here is the wording of the new rule: “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.”
Seems simple, right? But enforcing the rule in real life is difficult. Officials still don’t know how to call it consistently. Players and coaches are upset.
“It’s an idiotic rule,” said Sherman, who is recovering from injuries and whose status for Saturday’s preseason game is a point of contention.
“There is no way you should tackle the way they’re asking people to tackle AND play football. I mean, I could probably tackle like that if I was standing still and got on my knees and nobody was moving and I was tackling bags or something. But to ask people to do that at full speed is just ridiculous.”
Sherman means it’s impossible to tackle without some helmet contact. And he may be right. The rule may seem ridiculous, but it’s still a rule and breaking it results in a 15-yard personal foul. The 49ers committed two of these personal fouls Saturday during this preseason game against the Houston Texans.
“There’s going to be a 15-yard penalty every single play on darn near every player,” Sherman argued. Then he made an accusation.
“It’s one of those rules they’re obviously only calling on defense. I saw one with (Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback) A.J. Bouye and a running back, where the running back literally plowed his head into Bouye’s chest, and then they somehow called the penalty on Bouye. And he got run over. So, initiating the contact with the crown of your helmet, which the running back did, only applies if you’re a defensive player. Makes sense.”
When he mentioned non-stop 15-yard penalties, he was sarcastically referring to incidental helmet-to-helmet contact. Because that does occur every play, typically between offensive linemen and defensive linemen or running backs and linebackers.
On Wednesday, NFL Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent addressed in a written statement the issue of incidental helmet-to-helmet contact. “The NFL Competition Committee resolved that there will be no changes to the rule as approved by clubs this spring, which includes no additional use of instant replay. The committee also determined that inadvertent or incidental contact with the helmet and/or facemask is not a foul.”