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Is the NFL truly becoming a softer league?

A photo of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at a press conference NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been the face of the NFL for over 15 years. More recently, Goodell has been associated with the ever-growing list of controversial rules by the media. Photo by Sam Benson Smith for WEBN-TV via Flickr

On March 25, the NFL announced a few new changes to their rulebook, one of which was the banning of the hip-drop tackle. Per the NFL’s official announcement, a hip-drop tackle occurs when “a defender wraps up a ball carrier and rotates or swivels his hips, unweighting himself and dropping onto [the] ball carrier’s legs during the tackle.” 

The NFL stated the rule change was made primarily for the sake of player safety, as the hip-drop tackle has led to a disproportionate number of lower leg injuries for the players being tackled. 

This tackle is somewhat difficult to avoid for NFL defenders, though, as it can at times be nearly indecipherable from what would be deemed a legal tackle. At game speed, deciding whether a player deliberately “swivels his hips” and drops onto the other player’s legs is a tall task. 

Alongside this, some NFL players and analysts have spoken out against the rule change through outspoken X (formerly known as Twitter) posts, with some calling it another step towards flag football. 

Terrell Burgess, an NFL safety, asked via X (formerly known as Twitter) “How can you ban something that in some cases you can’t control?” 

Linebacker Malik Reed tweeted “Breaking News: Tackling Banned.”

Former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III tweeted “With the NFL unanimously voting to ban the Hip-Drop tackle, it’s only a matter of time before football as we know it, is just physical flag football.” 

A number of other former and current NFL players (offensive and defensive) voiced their concerns on X; it’s fair to say that the banning of the hip-drop tackle isn’t a particularly popular change. 

And, as Griffin alluded to, some believe that this ban is just another step closer to turning the NFL into a flag football league. 

In the past, the most prominent example of one of these steps towards flag football was the reworking of the roughing the passer penalty. The roughing the passer penalty, today, is called when a pass rusher hits the quarterback after the ball has clearly left their hand. It can also be called when a pass rusher touches a quarterback’s helmet or facemask and when a referee deems a pass rusher’s contact with the quarterback unnecessary. 

When the reworking of this rule was announced, NFL players reacted with a similar disdain. For pass rushers that often weigh upwards of 250 pounds, completely changing direction when a quarterback releases the ball can be near impossible. Alongside this, the referee’s ability to call the penalty based on their own discretion often leads to officiating errors and “soft” calls. 

Since the reworking of that rule and the subsequent questionable referee decisions relating to it, it has often been a point of debate among NFL players, coaches and fans.

After one of these controversial roughing the passer calls occurred in a 30-29 Chiefs victory back in 2022, Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones spoke about his issue with the rule in the postgame press conference. 

“There’s no need for an explanation,” Jones said. “What am I going to go up to them and say? ‘How should I tackle?’ ‘How should I not roll on him?’ I’m trying my best. I’m 325 pounds. What do you want me to do? I’m running full speed trying to get to the quarterback.”

Jone’s discourse has been replicated by several other NFL players since the rule reworking, and the league’s rulebook doesn’t seem to be getting any easier to abide by for NFL defenders. 

Now, fans can’t help but wonder if the hip-drop tackle ban is doomed to be another unnecessary change that leads to endless debate and questionable referee decisions. 

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