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Eradicating bounty system will be hot topic at NFL owners meeting

At this time a year ago, when NFL owners convened for their annual meeting, the usual agenda of rule changes and bylaw amendments were overshadowed by colossal issues such as revenue sharing, an antitrust lawsuit and myriad other labor matters.

But Monday-Wednesday at a beachfront resort in Palm Beach, they will gather with the knowledge they have a decade of labor peace ahead.

But there will be, as usual, a hot-button topic.

After last week's unprecedented discipline of the Saints for their organized bounty system — including coach Sean Payton suspended for a season, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely — commissioner Roger Goodell and league officials have embarked to make certain teams understand this must never happen again.

In a memo distributed last week, Goodell wrote, "Let me be clear. There is no place in the NFL for deliberately seeking to injure another player let alone offering a reward for doing so. … Programs of this kind have no place in our game, and we are determined that bounties will no longer be a part of the NFL."

This week, that point will continue to be driven home to the owners, coaches and front office executives, all of who attend the meetings.

Already, the league has instructed each owner to meet with his coach and certify, in writing, that no bounty system or pay-for-performance arrangement is in place.

It's all connected to the league's ongoing effort to promote player safety through the harsh penalties handed down and other initiatives.

"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game," Goodell said.

As always, rule changes will be discussed at the meetings, too, many reflecting the safety efforts.

One proposal, submitted by the Steelers, would make horse-collar penalties applicable to quarterbacks who are in the pocket. Currently, that is a lone exception to the rule.

"(Horse-collar tackles are) still too much a part of our game and has too much of a high risk of injury," said Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee. "It is something we definitely want to see out of our game."

The committee also reflected on last year's move of kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35, severely limiting return opportunities but greatly reducing injuries on one of the game's more dangerous plays.

"That was a rule change that was made for one reason only, and that was player safety," McKay said. "In looking at the results of it … it achieved its objective.

"The average (drive) start line went down, and we were really concerned with how that would affect offense. But player safety overrode that concern. We found that concussions and injuries were definitely down as a result; as much as 40 percent on concussions."

Among other proposals:

• All replays be reviewed by the booth and not the referee to speed up the game.

• Expand the postseason overtime rules — guaranteeing both teams a possession except when the receiving team scores a touchdown — to the regular season.

• Making all turnovers automatic replay reviews as required for scoring plays.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@tampabay.com.

Eradicating bounty system will be hot topic at NFL owners meeting 03/24/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 24, 2012 8:00pm]
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