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Respect high on NFL meetings agenda

Crackdown on abusive language and gestures will be among the initiatives discussed.

The Seahawks' Richard Sherman reaches out to shake hands with the 49ers' Michael Crabtree. (Matt Slocum/AP file)
The Seahawks' Richard Sherman reaches out to shake hands with the 49ers' Michael Crabtree. (Matt Slocum/AP file)Read more

THE NFL HAS spent the last several years trying to make its game safer. For its next trick, it will attempt to make it more civil.

"We have an element of respect that we have to bring back to the game," Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a longtime member of the league's competition committee, said last month at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

"It starts in the locker room and continues over onto the practice field and carries over onto the field on Sundays.

"We have to take a hard look at taunting. We have to take a hard look at language. Specifically on the field on Sundays. But all that starts within each and every organization, within their building."

According to Falcons president Rich McKay, who is the chairman of the league's competition committee, there were 34 taunting penalties called last season. The year before, there were just nine.

In the wake of the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito fiasco, and with the league about to welcome its first-ever openly gay player (Michael Sam), the league, ever-conscious of its image, wants its players to start following Aretha Franklin's advice and give each other R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

During a conference call yesterday in advance of next week's league meetings in Orlando, Fla., both Fisher and McKay said the league intends to crack down on abusive language, both on the field and in the locker room this season. That includes racial and homophobic slurs.

"We have a current rule that states using abusive or threatening or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates or officials or representatives of the league is unsportsmanlike conduct," Fisher said.

"The N-word would fall under that category. The officials will be empowered to call the foul if there are racial slurs or statements regarding a player's sexual orientation or even baiting or insulting verbal abuse.

"It's going to be a very significant point of emphasis."

McKay said members of the league's officiating department will visit with teams during spring OTAs and give them a Miss Manners-like lesson on what will and won't be tolerated.

"We will make sure we take the time to educate the players, the coaches, media, everyone, of how the league will be enforced this year," he said.

It's not clear how that will work in the locker room or the practice field, where there are no zebras to throw flags. But the league clearly plans to make coaches more accountable for the behavior of their players in the workplace going forward.

In addition to the point of emphasis on abusive language, the league's owners will review a total of 20 playing-rule and bylaw proposals at next week's meeting/golf vacation/cocktail party at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Resort.

They include:

* A proposal by the New England Patriots to move PATs back to the 25-yard line. Last season, there were just five missed PAT attempts, including four that were blocked. The idea has received a lot of attention in recent weeks.

If there is not enough sentiment for a change, and there probably won't be, Mc-Kay said the competition committee will propose moving the PAT line back to the 20 during a week in the preseason just to see how it works.

McKay said if the league moved PATs back to the 25, it likely would drop the success rate from 99.6 percent (in 2013) to about 90 percent.

* The NFL will not be turning replay challenges over to a league command center, a la the NHL. But the competition committee has proposed allowing the on-field referee to consult with members of the league's officiating department during replay reviews. The final decision, though, still would be made by the on-field officials.

"It's not going to change the process," Fisher said. "The process will be the same. But during that process, our command center in New York, headed by [vice president of officiating] Dean Blandino, will already be reviewing the play" before the referee peeks under the hood for a look.

"At the end of the day," Fisher said, "we're going to make sure that every single review is correct. We also feel this will speed up the instant-replay process and timing."

The owners also will be discussing the possibility of playoff expansion. The league has had a 12-team format since 1990. But because of the added revenue it would produce, there is growing sentiment to add two teams.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear he's in favor of playoff expansion.

"There will be a report on expanded playoffs [at the meeting]," league spokesman Greg Aiello said. "It's on the agenda. But I don't know that there would be any sort of vote at this meeting."


Former Eagles Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent was named the league's vice president of football operations. He had been the NFL's senior vice president of player engagement. One of Vincent's responsibilities in his new job will be dispensing player discipline and fines for on-field misbehavior. He is expected to play a key role in the crackdown on bad behavior. Vincent spent 6 years as the president of the NFL Players Association during his career. "I'm excited to return back to the field of play," said Vincent, who spent 15 years as a player, including 8 with the Eagles. "It's been a long 6 years [since he retired], and I now have the opportunity to be a contributor as we advance our game" . . . The Eagles have submitted a bylaw proposal to the owners that would permit teams to time and test 10 players who attended the scouting combine in Indianapolis at their own facility and permit teams to attend any timing and testing session at another club's facility that involved three or more draft-eligible players.