Murphy Takes 5 is a monthly column written by President and CEO Mark Murphy. On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: MurphyTakes5@packers.com
There will be several new rules this year, most with a focus on enhancing player safety. Player safety has been a priority for several years now, both in terms of new rules and rules enforcement. The NFL coordinates with the NCAA in these efforts. By sharing information, we can both learn from each other. One area of attention for both the NFL and the NCAA has been protection of the defenseless player. Since the NCAA cannot fine their players, it is often more challenging for them to change player behavior. For this reason, the NCAA added a rule this year that permits officials to immediately expel a player from a game for hitting a defenseless player in the head.
In the NFL, the new rule that's received the most attention is the rule that prohibits a runner or tackler from initiating forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top or crown of his helmet when both players are clearly outside the tackle box. This rule is part of a larger effort to eliminate the use of the helmet as a weapon. Some people have expressed concern that the new rule may be called too often. It will be interesting to see how it is officiated, but I don't think it will be called too frequently, since, for the foul to be called, a player must line up his opponent, lower his head and deliver a forcible blow with the crown of the helmet. There are several other new unnecessary roughness adjustments, including that defensive players are now prohibited from pushing down lineman into the offensive formation, the snapper on PATs and field goal attempts will now be considered a defenseless player, and the peel back block is now illegal anywhere in the field of play. Some have suggested that a quarterback running the read option should be afforded the same protection as a quarterback in the pocket. NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino recently stated that on the read-option play, the quarterback only has the protection of a runner.
A big change this year is that all players, with the exception of punters and kickers, will be required to wear thigh and knee pads. NFL players were required to wear these pads up until mid-1990s. The rule was dropped then because it was difficult to enforce. With the increased focus on player safety, the Competition Committee decided two years ago to reinstate the rule. Players will be removed from the game if they do not have the required pads.
The last two rule changes are non-safety related. The tuck rule is dead. If a quarterback tucks the ball and loses control of it, it is now a fumble. Finally, if a coach erroneously throws a challenge flag, the play will now be reviewed. The coach's team will be charged a timeout, and if they are out of timeouts, it will be assessed as a 15 yard penalty.
Now, on to your questions:
Fran from Sherill, NY
Are NFL officials full-time employees?
Great question, Fran. The NFL has been the only major professional sports league in which the officials are part-time employees. Of course, the NFL has many fewer games than the other sports. This has been an issue going back to the time when I was a player. The argument has been that the quality of officiating would be better if the officials focused on officiating full time. This year, though, for the first time ever, we will have some full-time officials. Under the new collective bargaining agreement with our officials, the NFL can hire a limited number of officials on a full time basis. The League has hired eight full-time officials, one for each officiating position. They will spend time during the season in the League office, and will be able to help the other officials in their position in terms of the techniques of officiating.
Liz from Mendham, NJ
Why do we have such a hard schedule this year, and why do we always play the Giants at home? Doesn't seem to fair for us.
We have a hard schedule because we finished first in the NFC North last year. Of our 16 games, two are based on where we finished in our division, and the other 14 are the same for every team in our division. This year, we will play at San Francisco and host Atlanta because they also finished first in their divisions. All NFC North teams will play all the teams in both the NFC East and AFC North. So, we play NFC divisions every third year and AFC divisions every fourth year. With regard to the Giants, we played them at home in 2010 when we played all NFC East teams, so we will play at New York this year.
Liz, I would not worry too much about the schedule. First, the League is so balanced that teams can change dramatically from year to year. Also, things tend to balance out over time. The key in the NFL is winning your division.
Ray from Fairfax, VA
I have always wondered what are the perks of your job, like what makes you happy coming to work knowing you're the President of the Green Bay Packers?
Thanks, Ray. I feel very fortunate that I have a job that I enjoy. For me, a couple of things make me feel good about coming to work. First, I love my interaction with our fans. The passion that they have for the team is infectious. Another reason is that I really enjoy being a part of a team. Not the team in the football sense, but our team of employees. We are all working together to bring championships to Green Bay, and to make sure everyone that comes to Lambeau Field has a great experience. The last few years have been particularly rewarding, as we've all been working together on the stadium expansion and Atrium renovation, and it is great to see our fans benefit from these improvements.
Stephanie from Las Cruces, NM
I was one of the many who was more than happy to purchase a share of stock to support the Packers. I am sad to see fans feel they are owed something for it. I am honored to be able to say I am a part of the team I love. The shareholders all paid for the stock knowing we were not entitled to anything. I do hope one day I will be able to attend a shareholder meeting. I think that is just wonderful to be able to attend that. I do not think we are "owed" anything because of purchasing stock, however, I keep reading posts about a lottery system for shareholders to attend a game in one shape or the other. Just wondering what your thoughts are on that.
I receive many questions from shareholders concerning this issue. Unfortunately, given the nature of our stock, we are limited in terms of what we can provide to shareholders. Since the stock does not provide any financial benefit (such as dividends or resale value), we cannot provide anything of value back to our shareholders. Our attorneys inform us that even providing access to face-value tickets would be considered a benefit. I hope shareholders understand these restrictions, and still feel good about their support of the Packers. We would not have been able to add the South End Zone without the backing of our shareholders.
Tim from Lawrenceville, GA
Given the investments in additions and expansions to Lambeau Field over the last 15-20 years, and the actual "age" of the stadium is 50 years old, is the infrastructure of the stadium capable of lasting another 20, 30, 40 years? Are the Packers planning for the eventual replacement?
Great question, Tim. We feel very confident that Lambeau Field will last for many, many more years to come. First, thanks to Ted Eisenreich, our director of facility operations, and his staff, we do an excellent job maintaining the stadium, including the infrastructure. Also, the Packers, the City of Green Bay and stadium district showed great foresight in 2001 when they established an Operation and Maintenance Fund as part of the lease and stadium funding plan. The Fund will be funded through 2031 before the sales tax is retired, which will help ensure that Lambeau Field continues to be in great shape for our fans. Also, when we do major work on the stadium, such as the South End Zone addition and the Atrium renovation, we also try to make improvements to existing parts of the stadium to ensure the longevity of Lambeau Field.