With labor unrest dominating the storylines at the NFL’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans, the Competition Committee discussed five rule proposals Tuesday morning, with the committee voting on four of them. While we shouldn’t expect a quick resolution to the current labor setbacks, when the game does return there will be some modifications.

The first rule proposal – Playing Rule Proposal No. 1 – involved defenseless players, and a rewrite of the rule currently in place. The first proposal was the only one not voted on, as it was tabled until May for further discussion. The proposal will essentially aim to provide receivers with more protection from hits while they are unprotected and defenseless. To an extent, committee co-chairman and Falcons President Rich McKay said, the problems lied in the language of the current ruling. A tweaked version of the rule will be re-presented to the owners in May. In essence, the rule would prohibit defenders from “launching” at an unprotected receiver (i.e., laid out to dry on a post route) until he has gathered the ball and landed with a split second to take action, or has gathered the ball and begun a motion to advance; otherwise known as a “football move.”

In a press conference transcript, McKay stated: “The pushback from the room was if we could separate some of those elements into separate rules and have a little bit better understanding of it. The number two pushback with that rule was there was a sea change in the way the game was played after midseason because of the emphasis by the Commissioner’s office with respect to fines. We think that the play got better after that.”

The league and its officials were much more meticulous in penalizing players halfway through this past season. You may recall Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison being fined a truckload of cash almost every week after the NFL began last year’s crackdown on player protection.

On the defenseless player rule proposal, Rich McKay had this to say: “It’s all about the idea that they feel like the conduct really changed after the emphasis. I think there is such a concern about the launch, and how the launch would be officiated and I think there is concern about the fact that the rule was put together as opposed to separated.”

McKay stated that the Committee did not put forth any proposal for any changes with respect to the quarterback, and the protections quarterbacks have.

The attitude toward concussions throughout the league – throughout the whole landscape of amateur and professional sports, really – is a very positive development, and the progression of player-to-player accountability has seen a crucial shift in the past several months. The old mentality of “rub some dirt on it and get back on the field” is currently being pushed aside, and for the better.

However, I am critical of the NFL’s stance on hits that deserve fines, and the league’s emphasis on penalizing with fines.

Offenders, and in some cases repeat offenders, will not receive the crackdown message the NFL is trying to send if they receive only fines. Former New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison has said on numerous occasions that the fines he received for illegal hits did not catch his attention, and I believe this goes for many of the NFL’s current and former players. Harrison changed his game only after he was threatened with suspension. No matter how much a player is fined in Week 7, he still suits up in Week 8. The NFL needs to take the next stop in the process of penalizing players. Currently it would have to take something egregious to receive a suspension. As long as the league penalizes for hits that cause harm to defenseless players with just fines, it does not provide a sufficient level of protection in these instances that the League is aiming towards.

Come May when this is revisited, the League and its Competition Committee need to take a long look at hits that actually warrant penalization. This clip compares two separate instances from the 2010 season – Ndamukong Suh’s hit on Jake Delhomme and James Harrison’s hit on Drew Brees – in which both players were fined. Suh manhandles Delhomme after he has gotten rid of the ball, clearly throwing him to the ground. The resulting penalty and $7500 fine are definitely warranted.

Harrison’s hit, however, is a different story. We all know Harrison’s background as a ferocious tackler in the NFL. Harrison made headlines last season for pondering retirement from football after his hits on Cleveland Browns wide receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs in the same game resulted in a $75,000 letter from the Commissioner’s Office. Harrsion is alleged to have seriously thought about retiring last year, because he questioned if he could still play the game according to the NFL’s rules. He’s not alone in his thinking. Alike Harrison, many current players questioned the impact of the NFL’s views on illegal hits. The Giants’ Antrel Rolle warned the NFL, saying the league risks “watering down” it’s product. If offenders continue to be fined for hits like Harrison’s on Brees, the League most definitely runs that risk.

To us, fans like you and me, football is almost a religion. It’s glorified entertainment. It’s woven into American culture like very few other things ever could be. But it’s a game at the end of the day. For NFL players who perfect their trade every week in a violet sport, it’s a way of life. The hard truth is that for some players, this “game” is all they’ve ever excelled at; some excel by playing more violently and more aggressive than others. An overwhelming majority of today’s players know how to tackle properly and legally; a small percentage of that majority know how to tackle legally, but that doesn’t translate into a game setting. Injuries happen in all sports, and all football players, at any level, know that a hit that results in an injury is different from an illegal hit that results in an injury.

Going forward, the NFL must differentiate between the two. The League needs to realize that, at its very core, the sport of football is very violent. It’s a gladiator’s game, where the NFL’s primary consumers will watch and attend games, just waiting to erupt after that big hit; where “jacked up” enters the vocabulary of every sports fan. There’s no need for head-hunting and launching in this league, but there will (should) always be a place for legal violence. The League can’t protect every player from every dangerous injury, and I hope there will come a time very soon when hits like Harrison’s on Brees will be viewed as a medium, and not an extreme.

While the League is taking great steps toward improving player protection, that next step needs to be taken.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 2” dealt with changes to kickoffs that you have surely heard about at this point. The Committee voted on the rule and it passed, and it led to a form the Committee called “Playing Rule Proposal No. 2A.” Rule 2A has the following elements: the kickoff will be moved from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line; touchbacks will remain at the 20-yard line; the out-of-bounds penalty will move the ball as it always has to the 40-yard line; the rule otherwise will remain the same as it always has. The two-man wedge would be allowed, while the Committee retains its stance on limiting dangerous injuries by prohibiting the three-man wedge.

On bringing the ball to the 20-yard line as opposed to the 25-yard line, McKay responded: “The concern was that you would motivate people to hang the ball and try to trap it inside the 25. Which people are probably a little more risk-adverse as opposed to try to trap (the ball) inside of the 20.”

On expected percentage increase in touchbacks: “I think our answer would be that we would see our percentage moving anywhere from five to 15. I think 15 [percent] is probably more than you will see, and I think five [percent] is probably a little less than you will see. It will be somewhere in there… I think early on in the season, you are going to say ‘boy, that is a lot of touchbacks,’ and then that will change. And it always has.”

McKay, on what the objections were of teams that were against moving the kickoff line and how player safety has factored in to the Committee’s decisions: “In this case, clearly there are some teams that have good returners that look and say, ‘Hey, what if there is 10 percent less returns, you are affecting our team in some way.’ We don’t have an answer to that other than to say yes, that is probably true, but when it comes to player safety, we are always going to have player safety trump the compete aspects of the game, period. There is no issue – that is what we are going to do.”

Also, the “five-yard restraining” rule applies in which players on the kicking team must line up five yards back at the 30-yard line, and no further back than that.

As is with most rule changes, this one comes with its fair share of controversy. Teams with return specialists, and those return specialists themselves, are needless to say not too thrilled. The kickoff return specialist may no longer be a valued commodity in the NFL. Instead, return specialists have become unbelievably less valuable and may very well become an afterthought for many teams in the near future. Late-round and veteran skill players looking to make an impact on special teams could lose out on a precious opportunity. Players like Josh Cribbs and Devin Hester, who excel as returnmen on both kicks and punts, could effectively have half of their skillset removed each game. Other players, however, who make a living returning kicks and bringing not much else value to the table – such as Seattle’s Leon Washington – could be without jobs.

The third rule proposal is a “modernization” of instant replay. This rule takes away coaches’ challenges on scoring plays, and puts the reviews it in the hands of the replay assistant upstairs.

The Committee’s press release stated: “That replay assistant will be required to confirm every scoring play. If he doesn’t confirm the play, obviously, the referee will review the play. The ball would be held by the umpire until he has gotten the signal that the play had been confirmed.

“We changed Playing Rule Proposal 3 to make it 3A. The reason we made it 3A was to make it very, very clear that the coach would not be allowed to challenge that play.

“Today, a team proposed an amendment that would become 3B and that amendment would allow for the third challenge in the event the coach gets the first two correct. That amendment passed. For an amendment to pass, you need a majority. We voted on Rule Proposal 3B, which passed. 3B is now in place and instant replay has been changed accordingly.”

Coaches will still receive two challenges per game.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 4 was called the double-foul proposal. The double-foul proposal consists of carrying over a foul from the first half into the second half.

Allow McKay to explain: “We wanted to create a situation last year where a foul at the end of the half was not disregarded, so it could be carried over. So a foul at the end of the first half could be carried over to the second, a personal foul, and a foul at the end of regulation could be carried over to overtime. What happened was, a nuance of the rule was that if there was a double foul – and that foul included a five and fifteen – five against the offense/fifteen against the defense – then all of a sudden instead of it carrying over, the offense actually got another play.”

The fifth rule proposal – Playing Rule Proposal No. 5 – was a bit of a pipedream. The Competition Committee voted on allowing teams the use of bizarre color schemes on their respective playing fields. The ruling that every field must be a league-approved shade of green, unless approved by the league office, passed unanimously. No smurf turf in the NFL. Thank you, Football Gods.

The NFL is taking a clear stance on player safety, in regards to defenseless players on offense and dangerous high-speed collisions on special teams. Whether the NFL lifts its lockout prior to this year remains to be seen; whenever NFL football returns, though, there will be some changes.

Voice your opinions on the proposals in the comments section below