When an NFL player has some thoughts about the NFL's confounding catch rule, he's worth listening to -- especially if that player is Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, whose straight-talking critiques on football often synthesize truths about the game that others have difficulty articulating.
Sherman, a newly elected representative to the NFL Players Association's executive committee, offered a solution to the catch rule in a Sunday interview with ESPN. Asked why one of the most fundamental actions in football, the catch, has become its most controversial play, Sherman blamed the "suits" for the NFL's confusing rulebook, which he believes lacks key input from the people playing the game:
Because you've got a bunch of suits doing it. Like I said before, you don't have a bunch of guys ... let Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin talk about it for about 20, 30 minutes. Maybe Cris Carter. Randy Moss, let those guys have a roundtable discussion about what a catch should be and come up with a rule.
I guarantee you it'd be more effective than the rule they have now because those are the pass-catchers. Those are some of the best pass-catchers we've had. I think it'd be more straightforward and to the point. You've got a bunch of guys who have never played. They've probably touched a football to hold it out or to shake somebody's hand, to take a picture, but they've never played the game."
Sherman's point is well-taken, but the NFL actually recently publicly stated they were culling player input on the catch rule. Acknowledging the possibility of adding "clarity" to the rule, the NFL convened a "Catch Rule Committee" of NFL executives, players, coaches and referees late in 2015 to try and cut through the confusion. In its first meeting in January, they invited Sherman-endorsed legends Randy Moss and Cris Carter to weigh-in, as well as Jordy Nelson, Steve Largent, Fred Biletnikoff and Tim Brown. Those players have nearly 5,000 career catches combined, and would ostensibly make for expert catch rule roundtable analysis. Sherman's worries were already covered -- the NFL's got this one right for once, right? Better guidelines coming, right?
Wrong. In February, NFL.com reported that the complicated catch rule wasn't expected to be changed during March's competition committee meeting, which runs from this Sunday until Wednesday. Former NFL executive Bill Polian, a member of the Catch Rule Committee, explained to NFL.com in February that the committee wasn't going to touch the current rule because it believed, for one, that people in the league understand what a catch is (despite evidence to contrary), and two, doing so would make the game more dangerous.
Polian argued that the most contentious part of the rule -- the period of time in which the receiver has the ball and must become a runner to protect himself -- is there to shield potential defenseless receivers and prevent injury-causing fumble melees. The catch rule's "must become a runner" addendum purportedly exists for the safety of players -- a terrific idea in theory, but one that seems unnecessary when tested against the full scope of football's dangerous reality.
Calvin Johnson's reversed touchdown catch during Week 1 of the 2010 season helped ignite today's catch rule debate.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, for one, has advocated for the catch rule to resemble it's more simple 1982 form -- which only took away catches if possession was lost while simultaneously touching both feet inbounds -- since no safety-first additions to the rule will stop football from being what it is: a lightning-fast, barbaric game where defenders aren't thinking about whether or not their opponent's "clearly established himself as a runner" while trying to make a bang-bang play. When a defender sees a receiver's hands going for the ball, that receiver is going to get hit hard, no matter what the catch rule says the receiver has to do to actually have his catch count as a catch.
So if no rule can truly reduce the inherent violence of the game, and any addendum is only causing unnecessary confusion, why not simplify what a catch is?
Both sides of the ball include inherently hurtful, damaging dings, knocks and clashes. There's no rule the NFL can ratify to alter their sport's DNA, but there is one that would stop universal confusion while ending the PR-friendly, player-safety fallacy: A concrete and crystal clear change to this dumb catch rule.
Even suits should understand that.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver caught the ball, got hit, then fumbled it into the New York Giants' hands, right? Wrong. The NFL declared this as an interception -- no catch.