The NFL finalized the expansion of replay to include pass interference, which is a good start to opening up everything to replay. There should be more.
Make everything reviewable
Move to the college replay system
The NCAA has an official solely for replays, and empowers them to initiate their own review if they feel that there was a “reasonable evidence” that an error was made. Think of all the times a coach has to use a challenge because the call on the field was so obviously wrong. Coaches can still challenge a play, but they shouldn’t have to waste a challenge when there’s a clear cut mistake. The NFL already has every turnover reviewed automatically and plays inside the 2 minute warning. They’ve laid the groundwork for reviewing plays without a coach requesting it, and the NCAA has shown that it won’t ruin the game. It’s time to expand.
Change the penalty for a fumble out of the end zone
This is the worst rule in the NFL. Perhaps in all of sports. If a player fumbles the ball and it rolls out of the end zone, it’s a turnover, the other team gets a touchback. This is beyond stupid. The intent of the rule is to prevent players who won’t be able to cross the goalline from intentionally fumbling to a teammate in the end zone. They wanted to prevent another Holy Roller, a fun but absurd moment.
The penalty is way too harsh. The only time a player would, or at least should, intentionally fumble the ball so that a teammate can score off of it would be on 4th down or the final play of the game, as Ken Stabler did. Any other time in the game they’d be risking a possession. Simply change the rule to be that the ball is spotted at yard line where the fumble occurred. This would retain the disincentive for a player to try to fumble into the end zone, but not give a team an enormous penalty when it’s a simple mistake and unlucky bounce.
Drop the automatic 1st down from 5 yard penalties
This might be the most frustrating penalty, giving offenses a cheap out when they didn’t do anything. The five yards and a replay of the down is punishment enough. Even when your offense gets bailed out by it, it still feels lame, you never think “they deserved that.” They didn’t. The NFL rules already favor the offense, taking a little bit of that away won’t hurt the game.
Increase the penalty for intentional grounding
Sacks are fun, unless it’s your QB getting sacked. Intentional groundings are anything but fun, and QBs are content to take the penalty instead of a sack. Over the past five years, teams have lost an average of 6.5 yards per sack, and 11.3 yards per intentional grounding, per NFLpenalties.com. It’s essentially a 5 yard penalty.
Sacks result in the highest rate of turnover of any type of play, 18% in a 2010 study, 14% in a 2017 study. A 5 yard penalty and loss of down for avoiding the highest chance for a turnover is too light. In fairness to the NFL, stopping a play before a QB gets clobbered is beneficial for player safety. (Some advice: Googling “sack injury rate” gives you some interesting results. You’ve been warned.) Tack on an additional 5 yards to the spot of the foul and QBs aren’t going to lose their sense of self preservation, but their offenses will be better punished for taking the easy out.