NFL owners change rules to protect players

By Andrew Seligman

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 20 2013 9:47 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2012, file photo, Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla. The Bears announced on Wednesday, March 20, 2013, that they were unable to reach a contract agreement with Urlacher, who is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

Associated Press

Associated Press

If it was good enough for football's greatest running back, NFL owners figure, it should work in the 21st century.

Team owners passed a player safety rule Wednesday barring ball carriers from using the crown of their helmets to make forcible contact with a defender in the open field. Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney put the change succinctly.

"Jim Brown never lowered his head," he said with a smile. "It can be done."

And according to the rules, it must be done beginning this season.

The second significant player safety rule passed this week to help protect defensive players came with much debate. Several coaches and team executives expressed concern about officiating the new rule, but Commissioner Roger Goodell championed it and it passed 31-1. Cincinnati voted no.

On Tuesday, the league took the peel-back block out of the game.

The changes were the latest involving safety, and head injuries in particular, with the issue receiving heightened attention amid hundreds of lawsuits filed by former players claiming that the NFL did not do enough to prevent concussions in years past. League officials have defended the NFL's record and did so again on Wednesday.

The tuck rule, one of the most criticized in pro football, was eliminated. Now, if a quarterback loses control of the ball before he has fully protected it after opting not to throw, it is a fumble.

Video review now will be allowed when a coach challenges a play that he is not allowed to. But the coach will be penalized or lose a timeout, depending on when he threw the challenge flag.

BEARS CUT TIES WITH URLACHER: Brian Urlacher wanted to re-sign with the Chicago Bears.

Instead, they're parting ways with the veteran linebacker after 13 years.

General manager Phil Emery said Wednesday that the team couldn't agree on a contract with Urlacher, for years the heart and face of the franchise. He is now a free agent after being slowed by a knee problem and then missing the last four games of the season with a hamstring injury.

TEXANS TO SIGN REED: Free-agent safety Ed Reed is on the verge of becoming a Houston Texan, according to multiple reports.

CBSSports.com reported Wednesday night that a deal was in place, and the NFL Network quoted Reed as saying he was headed to Houston "unless something changes." Neither Reed nor his agent, David Dunn, immediately returned phone messages left by The AP.

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