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New Enforcement of Roughing the Passer Rule May Have a Trickle Down Effect

It’s nearly unanimous. We all hate the uptick of roughing the passer penalties across the league. But is the NFL’s attempt at keeping quarterbacks safe only hurting other players? The negative impacts on players of other positions could be financial as well as physical.

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New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

The NFL added a new element to its’ roughing the passer rule this past offseason. The new rule, which is located in Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9 of the NFL’s rule book, states a player will be penalized 15 yards if he applies all or most of his body weight onto a quarterback and drives him to the ground.

The rule was most likely added as a knee jerk reaction to Aaron Rodger’s broken collarbone last year while taking a sack from Chicago Bears pass rusher Shea McClellin. Tony Romo must be feeling like a keg of O’Doul’s; worthless.

Romo first broke his collarbone against the Giants way back in 2010. He missed the final 10 games of that season. Then in 2015 Romo missed seven games due to another collarbone fracture in a loss to the Eagles. He returned for less than two games before re-injuring it against the Panthers.

The Cowboys finished 2015 with a 4-12 record. But the league didn’t seem to care. They were the same types of hits Rodgers took in 2017, but no rule changes were made.

Ironically, it’s Rodgers’ very own teammate, Clay Matthews, who has been burned the most by the new rule. For three weeks in a row, he has earned spirit-crushing roughing the passer penalties. The first penalty definitely was a penalty, but the second and third penalties left most scratching their heads.

Even Aaron Rodgers, whom this rule was most likely created to protect doesn’t agree with it.

NFL fans have been incensed with the extreme increase in roughing the passer penalties, which are on pace to be the most since 2001. Sack artists like J.J. Watt feel the very same way.

Pass rushers are some of the most athletic players on the field. But what they are being asked to do is simply impossible when taking the laws of physics into account.

Just this past weekend, an 11 year veteran and leader of the Dolphins locker room, William Hayes, tore his right ACL while trying to avoid landing on Derek Carr in the act of sacking him during a crucial third down stop.

NFL veterans like Richard Sherman and the Saints’ own Cam Jordan chimed in when they heard the news of Hayes’ unfortunate injury.

Dolphins’ head coach Adam Gase was despondent following the game. “He will be out for the season,” Gase said. “He tore his ACL on that sack. He was trying to not put body weight on the quarterback. His foot got caught in the ground.”

Hayes accounted for a third of the Dolphins’ sacks this season and was a crucial run stop element during their first 3-0 start in five years.

Add Derek Carr to the growing list of quarterbacks who don’t like this new rule even though it’s designed to protect them.

Hayes’ teammate, Akeem Spence verbalized players’ frustrations perfectly. ”It sucks because he was trying to protect the quarterback while still trying to make the play, and it’s a double-edged sword,” Spence said. “What do you expect us to do? We know the rule, but we don’t know the ins and outs.”

“And then I saw Clay Matthews, he had another one yesterday. What do you want the guy to do? You gotta put the guy down. How much is too much weight? What technique do you use? How do you go about it? We are still asking questions just like y’all are. Let’s be honest, that’s a difficult rule to gauge.”

Fans are frustrated with the high number of penalties killing the momentum of games with too many breaks in the action already. Defenders are frustrated at the impossibility of the task they are being asked to perform. Hell, even a couple of the highest paid quarterbacks have stated they don’t care for the rule either.

It seems Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is the only player who is ready to embrace the new rule. “I need to sit in the pocket and let them hit me more. Simple as that.” I sincerely doubt the competition committee wanted quarterbacks taking more hits in exchange for more valuable penalties, but that is exactly what Prescott has proposed.

Another play that stood out last week against the Falcons was when multiple Saints defenders were in hot pursuit of quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan appeared to give himself up close to the sideline after scrambling out of the pocket. The defenders immediately halted their pursuit.

Then Ryan underhand tossed the ball up field and the play resulted in an incomplete pass instead of a four yard loss like it would have been if the Saints defenders didn’t appear to lay off Ryan. If quarterbacks around the league start pulling this trick, we may never see another sack.

If a sack becomes more rare because of this rule, could pass rushers and sack artists become devalued? Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack just signed extensions worth more than $20 million per year to do little else than attack quarterbacks. Cam Jordan is the 18th highest paid edge rusher in the league and he makes a cool $11 million per year.

It’s a valuable position that is paid for harassing quarterbacks. If they can’t do their job without costing their teams countless first downs, I wonder if teams will still want to pay them top dollar. Clay Matthews is paid $13.2 million per year to sack the quarterback, and two of the prettiest sacks he’s ever registered have instead cost the Packers 30 yards in penalties.

Matthews had this to say following his latest penalty against Washington quarterback Alex Smith. ”Of course, like I said last week, NFL’s gonna come back, say I put my body on him, but that’s a football play. I hit him from the front, got my head across, wrapped up. I’ve never heard of anybody tackling somebody without any hands.”

“When he gives himself up as soon as you hit him, your body weight’s going to go on him. I think we’re looking for the hits that took Aaron [Rodgers] out last year, that little extra. If I wanted to hurt him, I could have. I could’ve put some extra on him. That’s football.”

The spirit of this rule has clearly been lost on the fans, players, and refs. This can’t possibly be what the competition committee had in mind when they established the rule. Usually the league doesn’t roll back rules after making them, but in the case of touchdown celebrations, they did exactly that by loosening the previously draconian laws of having fun after scoring.

The league has released a statement revealing that it will not change the rule mid season.

Let’s hope the league does take a second look at this rule this offseason and roll it back to when the players were just playing hard nosed football. Because if they don’t, Tony Romo just might come out of retirement.