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With catch rule under scrutiny, third-step concept merits consideration

The changes the NFL may implement to its catch rule are not radical enough, Mike Florio argues.

Three years ago, in the aftermath of #DezCaughtIt, a sense emerged that the league would make meaningful changes to the catch rule. The league didn’t.

Now, a strong feeling of inevitability has emerged that some sort of substantive change will be made to the catch rule. So what should the change be?

The problems arise not from the first two elements of the catch rule (possess the ball plus two feet or body part on the ground) but from the third element, which contemplates having the ball for a certain period of time before a catch has occurred. Without the third element, a player who has the ball for a nanosecond before being hit legally by a defensive player and losing possession would be deemed to have caught the ball and fumbled it.

The third element has traditionally been subjective. Previously, the third element required the player to have the ball long enough to perform an act common to the game. More recently, the third element was changed to require the player to have the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. These are both subjective tests, not conducive to slow-motion, frame-by-frame replay review.

There’s another possibility, an objective way to complete the catch and to permit the process to be reviewed reliably and consistently by replay. It’s the concept of taking an extra step after getting two feet down. We suggested a new catch rule based on taking a third step in 2015, and the concept (notwithstanding our support for it) gained some traction.

With the league meetings approaching quickly, it could be gaining traction again. And it could end up on the table next week, whether formally proposed by the Competition Committee or not. Ultimately, the owners can make any rule changes they want to make, regardless of whether enough members of the Competition Committee sign off on it.

The goal is (or should be) to devise a rule that meshes with the reasonable expectations of all stakeholders (owners, coaches, executives, players, media, and fans) regarding what a catch is, and what a catch isn’t. But it’s not enough to codify a know-it-when-you-see-it rule; there must be a standard that can be fairly and consistently applied.

Ideally, the standard would be objective, to ensure consistency -- and to facilitate replay review. Hinging the third element on the player getting two feet down and taking one more step could make the most sense, and it could mesh most closely with that we expect a catch to be, and to not be.