NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrapped up the league meetings on Wednesday afternoon, saying it was a priority for owners to help player safety with new measures designed to limit helmet contact during games.
"We think this is going to help us take the helmet out of the game, and get it back to where it's a protective device as opposed to something that can be used as a weapon," Goodell said after owners approved a measure Tuesday that calls for a 15-yard penalty and possible ejection whenever a player lowers his head to initiate contact with the helmet.
Much of the early talk in meetings was centered around the effort to simplify and improve what constitutes a catch, an issue that had become a source of contention with several high-profile plays late in the season.
That was addressed with a new rule approved Tuesday, but it quickly took a back seat to the league's renewed efforts to limit helmet contact and the concussion and injury risks that come with it.
"I think the coaches, unanimously, stood up and said 'We're with it. We understand it's a major change and we take responsibility,' which is what the union asked us when we met with them in Indianapolis," said Atlanta Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay, who is chairman of the competition committee. "They said, 'We understand the rule, we understand the change. We need the coaches locked in arms with us arm in arm in the teaching of this.'"
McKay said he's confident the league's coaches can teach players the correct way to tackle effectively within the new rules, with the total safety of both the player tackling and the one being tackled as a top priority.
"I did not hear a single coach who did not believe this is what we have to do and the right thing to do," Goodell said. "We can do this. It's going to take a collective effort. It's not just on the officials to enforce it. It's not just on the league to discipline for it. It's on the coaches to coach it ... everyone is enthusiastically behind this in support of this."
Goodell downplayed questions about the league resolving lingering issues with players protesting during the national anthem. That conversation will carry over to the league's spring meetings in May. Goodell said there were productive talks with the players coalition about how the league can help with social issues that are of greatest importance.
The league approved two minor rules changes Wednesday. Now, in overtime, a play in which a team gets what would be a game-clinching turnover will be completed to its finish. And a team that scores a winning touchdown on the final play of a game will no longer be required to kick an extra point or attempt a two-point conversion when it does not change the game's end result.
League owners had considered a proposal that would allow assistant coaches on teams in the playoffs to sign a contract as a head coach with a different team while his original team was still alive in the playoffs. Lacking the necessary votes, that proposal was tabled for further discussion.
Goodell expressed excitement about the league's future in two cities: in Los Angeles, where the Rams and Chargers moved in the last two years and a new stadium complex is being built that will also house the league's NFL Media headquarters, and also in Las Vegas, where the Raiders will be moving in 2020 with a new stadium there as well.
Goodell also said the process involved in the sale of the Carolina Panthers continues, with optimism that owners could vote on a new owner at their May meetings.
The commissioner also paid tribute to longtime Saints owner Tom Benson, who passed away this month at age 90 after owning the team since 1985.
"He loved the league, he loved the Saints, he loved the New Orleans community and the fans," Goodell said. "He gave us so much at the league level: his time, his care, his wit and we're going to miss him a great deal. He was an extraordinary man."