Carolina Panthers

NFL considering medical spotters rule to improve player safety

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman catches the game-winning touchdown during last February’s Super Bowl. Edelman was in the game despite an earlier helmet-to-helmet hit. A new rule proposed by the NFL competition committee could force players to leave the field for concussion testing in the future, something Edelman did not do.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman catches the game-winning touchdown during last February’s Super Bowl. Edelman was in the game despite an earlier helmet-to-helmet hit. A new rule proposed by the NFL competition committee could force players to leave the field for concussion testing in the future, something Edelman did not do. AP

New England Patriots’ Super Bowl hero Julian Edelman might not have been available to catch the game-winning touchdown against Seattle if a rule the NFL proposed Monday had been in place last season.

Owners will vote on a proposal this week that would allow independent medical spotters to stop the game if they see a player showing signs of a head injury.

From his seat in the press box during the Super Bowl, a Detroit Free Press reporter heard a spotter tell the Patriots’ sideline to have Edelman checked for a concussion after he took a helmet-to-helmet hit from safety Kam Chancellor during the fourth quarter.

Edelman never came out of the game while the Patriots were on offense, and he wouldn’t say after the game whether he had been screened for a concussion.

Competition committee Chairman Rich McKay said the Edelman play was part of the impetus for the proposed rule.

“The Edelman situation was a play we looked at, and it was part of the issue. There were a couple other plays that go back a couple years that we looked at,” McKay said during the first day of the owners meetings Monday.

“It came a little bit from the health and safety committee just saying, ‘we’ve got these (certified athletic trainers) spotters. They’ve got a really good vantage point. They’ve got technology in their booth. They’re communicating pretty well with our trainers and doctors, and we’ve got a pretty good rhythm going there.’ Why would we miss a play when a player should come out?”

If the rule passes when owners vote Wednesday, spotters would communicate with the side judge if they notice a player who displays “obvious signs of disorientation or is clearly unstable,” McKay said.

The clock would stop while the player is evaluated on the field or the sideline. Teams could replace only the affected player, and their opponent would be able to substitute to match up, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said.

Teams would not be charged a timeout.

The long-term effects of concussions has been a polarizing topic for the NFL.

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, 24, retired last week after one season due to concerns over the effects of head injuries.

According to the NFL, concussions were down 25 percent last season from the previous season. And league officials say they continue to study ways to make the game safer.

The proposed spotter rule is another step in that direction.

“We do not expect this to be a rule that gets used a lot,” said McKay, the Atlanta Falcons’ president. “We expect it to be a fail-safe when people just don’t see this player and the stress that the player may have had. The spotter does and stops the game.”

While Edelman remained in the Super Bowl, the Seahawks pulled defensive end Cliff Avril in the third quarter to be tested for a concussion. Avril did not return to the game.

At the scouting combine last month, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said he didn’t know what happened in Edelman’s case, but added he was in favor of any rule changes that would promote player safety.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Carroll said. “I think we will continue to grow and continue to work at it, and hopefully we will expand the awareness and the judgments. And hopefully we can take care of our guys the best way possible.”

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