Cowboys exec Stephen Jones takes issue with proposed NFL rule change on ejections for illegal hits

IRVING, Texas — At the NFL's winter meetings in Texas on Wednesday, a proposal was thrown out about, well, throwing a player out.

Team representatives asked the league office to prioritize exploration of policy updates regarding consequences for hits on a defenseless player. Two key possibilities: automatic disqualification and review.

The rule would not only protect quarterbacks, though an emphasis on keeping the league’s highest-profile, highest-activity position undoubtedly motivates conversation.

“QB goes down by a hit, obviously there’s a flag on the field,” NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said. “Should that player be automatically ejected? Or should that be a reviewable play? That’ll be a topic of what’s reviewed, what should be reviewable.”

NCAA rules currently impose a 15-yard penalty and ejection for targeting, defined as a player making “forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless player or contact an opponent with the crown [top] of their helmet.”

The NFL defines the penalty more broadly as triggered when a player “initiates unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture,” which could come via 11 different manifestations. Among them: initiating unnecessary contact on a player in the act of or just after throwing a pass; a receiver attempting a catch “who has not had time to clearly become a runner;” and a runner in the grasp of a tackler whose forward progress has been stopped.

Prohibited contact includes “forcibly hitting” a defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm or shoulder. Illegally launching into a player and lowering a head to make forcible contact also violate rules.

The guidelines are spelled out. And yet: Are the proposed consequences realistic?

Nobody liked the roughing call against Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips (15) in Sunday's game against the Chargers. Coaches might be able to challenge it in the future. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, one of nine members who sit on the NFL’s competition committee, told Yahoo Sports he is opposed to an ejection consequence.

“I don't want to go to the college rule, me personally,” Jones said. “Let’s say you’re playing in a playoff game and there’s a controversial call and you lose your player for the game, then it turns out you shouldn’t have. That’s where I struggle. I’m for really giving it a good going-over before you suspend them. Damn sure can fine them if it was wrong, and [more than] fine them if he’s a habitual offender.

“I like consequences. I like accountability. I just don’t like them in the middle of the game.”

Vincent said he believes that such an ejection rule would be “very difficult” to implement with the speed of the game. Slowed-down replay clips routinely reveal more penalty-worthy conduct than live officiating. Should incidental conduct that comes with the fast-paced, physical game always warrant a flag?

“Don’t think that’s in the best interest of the game,” Vincent said. “The game should be called on the field. It’s played on the field. Replay is there to assist the clear and obvious. I think chasing perfection is a dangerous place to go for the National Football League and, frankly, for officiating. And that’s what happens with the cameras, replay. You begin chasing perfection, which is not a good place for the game.”

Jones echoed that sentiment, telling Yahoo Sports he’s a “big proponent of less reviewable things” to “let the game get played.” But he understands why the suggestion is routinely proposed.

“There are a lot of people in this league who I respect who say it ought to be reviewable,” Jones said. “Because a lot of times, there’s a violent hit to a guy’s chest and it’s legal but because it looks so violent, they throw the flag and people are saying, 'well, the flag should come off.' So they like it reviewable.

“If a guy just does something just egregious, like shove an NFL official down, shove a coach down …there are some things that rise to the level. But the game’s so fast.

“Let the game get played.”

Also a top priority for league membership at Wednesday’s meeting: the enforcement of roughing-the-passer calls and whether a coach can challenge those. That conversation will continue into the offseason. Vincent disagreed with a penalty called on Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips in last Sunday’s game but generally believes that penalty has been called more accurately this season.

“The officials, I must say, have been pretty consistent with and very accurate when making that call,” Vincent said. “But they’re human. We will have an occasion where we will disagree, and I mentioned the Chargers-Miami game. Didn’t like that call. We thought that [Dolphins head coach Mike] McDaniel did what we are asking the coaches to coach and the players to actually execute. But I think that is the discussion.'

“We’ll bring back all the data, when it happens, how often it happens, how accurate is it? But I’ll be looking forward to this discussion.”