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NFL owners unanimously approve new, simplified catch rule

Update: The owners unanimously approved the new catch rule Tuesday.

The story below was originally published March 23.

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The NFL Competition Committee thinks it has come up with a way to simplify the answer to the maddening question: What is a catch?

The league will put its new definition to the test this week when the top executives from each team gather in Orlando, Fla., for the NFL Owners Meetings.

"I hope they'll see that what we tried to do is really simplify the rule and make it a little easier to understand for the fans, for the players," said Rich McKay, Atlanta Falcons president and competition committee chairman.

The proposal put forth by McKay's eight-member committee eliminates the requirement that a receiver maintain possession while "going to the ground," even if he apparently had control before he hit the ground.

The proposed three-part test on a catch:

1: Secure control in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground.

2: Touch the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands.

3: Once 1 and 2 are fulfilled, he also performs any act common to the game, such as tucking the ball away, extending it toward or over the goal line or the line of scrimmage, taking an additional step, turning upfield or avoiding or warding off an opponent, or he maintains control long enough to do so.

The NFL will need 24 of 32 owners to approve the new definition to adopt the rule. The owners meetings run Sunday evening through Wednesday.

McKay explained: "We tried to make it a very definable three-step process, which is control. Meaning, a clean catch of the ball, two feet down or a body part and then do anything with the ball that shows it's a football act. That could be reaching for a goal line ... That could be reaching for a first-down line. That could be tucking the ball away. That could be a number of things. Lastly the catchall to that would be: Or if you had enough time to do it and you just didn't do it because you didn't need to. For instance you could be in the end zone and have caught the ball and held it that long and you could have done something with it but you didn't."

The most controversial play from last season regarding a catch arguably was a touchdown reception by Pittsburgh tight end Jesse James that would have been a game-winner against New England. James had clear control of the ball but as he went to the ground in the end zone, the ball popped out of his hands.

McKay confirmed the James play would be a catch under the new rule, as would the infamous TD by Dallas' Dez Bryant that was ruled incomplete in the 2014 playoffs.

The Bills' most controversial non-catch from 2017 would be a catch under the new rule, contrary to this writer's interpretation of the new wording. .

Kelvin Benjamin appeared to make a difficult, 4-yard TD catch in the Bills' 37-16 loss at New England. The NFL ruled that when Benjamin gained control of the ball, his left foot was not touching the ground.

NFL officials chief Al Riveron stated Monday that Benjamin would have been ruled in control when his second foot touched down.

The next most high-profile rules change being proposed is changing all pass interference fouls to 15-yard penalties, rather than spot-of-the-foul penalties. The Los Angeles Chargers proposed it.

McKay would not say what the NFL Competition Committee was going to recommend to owners on this proposal.

College football uses a 15-yard penalty for all pass interference calls. There is concern NFL coaches would aggressively coach defensive backs to interfere on certain plays to prevent big pass completions.

Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations and a former star defensive back, is against the rule change. Vincent is not a member of the competition committee.

"The professional defensive backs are too skilled, are too smart," Vincent said. "When you get to this level, you have to play the play. You don't want a defensive back again being able to strategically grab a guy. ... There have been multiple discussions. It comes up every year. It has momentum. We talked about it last week at length."

"Most of the time a college defensive back doesn't even know he's in trouble," Vincent said. "We'll see where it lands next Tuesday or Wednesday."

Last year there were 11 pass interference penalties of 40 or more yards out of about 17,000 pass plays.

Meanwhile, McKay trumpeted the competitive balance in the NFL.

In 2017, eight of the 12 playoff teams did not make the playoffs the year before and two went from worst in their division to first (the L.A. Rams and Philadelphia Eagles). In 14 of the last 15 seasons, a team has gone from last to first in its division.

"One of the other stats that jumped out at us was with young players," McKay said. "This year we had rookies accumulate 22,219 yards from scrimmage. That's the most rookies have had since 1970. They had 177 TDs, the most since 1970. So there are definitely bright young players in our game."

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