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2023/24 NFL season: Rule changes and points of clarification

The new NFL season is almost here, and teams will need to get comfortable with a handful of rule changes in 2023/24.

Here we pick out the biggest rule changes and clarifications ahead of what is set to be an exciting season.

Automatic review of failed fourth downs

The NFL can be a game of inches, none more so than on fourth down attempts, and so from the new season onwards calls which are ruled short on fourth down will be automatically reviewed.

Head coaches are now prohibited from challenging on a failed fourth-down conversion, saving them for other situations.

The Houston Texans suggested the change, which they believe will speed up the game.

Successful fourth-down conversions will still need a challenge to overturn the decision, although the exception to this rule is if the play is inside overtime or the two-minute warning.

Fair catch kickoffs to start play from 25 yards

From the new season onwards fair catches made on kickoffs behind or at the 25-yard line will be automatically awarded at the 25-yard line, in theory decreasing the number of kickoff returns.

This rule has been in place in college football since 2018. It aims to minimise damage from kickoffs which can be a dangerous play. 

The rule was suggested and added to the rule book after the May Owners Meeting.

Timing rules modified after a ruling on the field is reversed

In the new season the time on the play clock after a ruling is reversed will be different from previous seasons.

Outside of the two-minute warning, the play clock will be set to 40 seconds instead of the previous tally of 25 after an on-the-field ruling is reversed.

If the game is inside the two-minute warning and a ten second runoff is in use, the play clock will be set to 30 seconds.

Launching from one foot is now illegal

When tackling a defenceless player, a launching penalty will be called if only one foot is used to spring forward, compared to both feet from last season.

This should improve player safety and result in fewer dangerous hits after it was proposed by the NFL's Competition Committee.

Tripping upgraded to a personal foul

Reverting to the ruling from before 1974, tripping has now been upgraded to a personal foul, meaning that the former penalty of ten yards has been replaced by a 15-yard punishment.

It will remain an automatic first down and a player can be disqualified for repeated violations. Only 16 instances have been called in the last three seasons, so the number of players falling foul of the new ruling may be minimal.

Third-string quarterbacks can be carried on the roster without taking up a spot

With an increased awareness of the dangers quarterbacks face, the NFL has changed the rule this season to allow teams to have a third quarterback available on game days without taking up a roster spot.

If the team’s first two quarterbacks are injured or disqualified they can play their third string, although if either of the first two quarterbacks return to the field the third must return to the bench.

That is unless the first two are unavailable again for the same reason as the previous incident.

The return of the 0 jersey number

In a further relaxation of the NFL’s uniform policy, the jersey number 0 will return for the new season after the rule change was suggested by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Punters and kickers will be able to use any number between 0-49 and 90-99 under the new rules, but that luxury will not extend to offensive or defensive linemen.

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley and Philadelphia Eagles running back DeAndre Swift are two players who have already opted for the zero on the back of their jerseys for the upcoming season.

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