On the Steelers: 18-game season for NFL dead issue

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Two major issues, one that resembled a speeding locomotive and the other a possible train wreck, have disappeared from the agenda of the annual NFL meetings that will convene Sunday in Palm Beach, Fla.

The labor issues and lockout of the players that dominated the NFL this time last year were put to bed for a decade with the new collective bargaining agreement reached in July -- losing only the preseason game in Canton. And thoughts of an 18-game schedule, a pet project of commissioner Roger Goodell that seemed to be an inevitability not long ago, virtually has expired.

"I would say it's a dead issue for now," Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a telephone interview Friday. "I haven't heard anything about it. I don't know if it will come up in the future, but it's certainly not on the agenda for this meeting."

Goodell, no doubt at the behest of owners looking to maximize income, pushed hard for the addition of two games to the regular-season schedule and reduce the preseason by two games. The idea grew legs quickly and appeared to be a fait accompli.

But then players began griping about it, particularly those in Pittsburgh who noted the hypocrisy between the commissioner's push for player safety and adding two more games to the schedule. Dan Rooney spoke out against it 14 months ago and the 18-game schedule became a rallying cry for the players in CBA talks.

"I would rather not have the money," Dan Rooney said in January 2011 of the expected increase in TV revenue the addition of two regular-season games would bring.

Art Rooney, a member of the NFL's executive committee that conducted most of the negotiations with the players, said: "I think it was really the players who couldn't be sold on it, and it became clear pretty early in our negotiations last year that it was going to be a major stumbling block. It was taken off the table early in the discussions because everyone realized the players weren't going to buy into it and wouldn't go for it.

"I don't know if it will resurface."

The new CBA stipulates the players must approve any change in the number of games on the NFL schedule.

In the meantime, Art Rooney and the Steelers have proposed two rules changes for the 2012 season that will be presented to the owners for a vote next week:

• Use overtime rules adopted for the playoffs last season in the regular season as well.

• Make the horse-collar tackle of a quarterback in the pocket a penalty, as it is everywhere else on the field.

"When the change came up, we were pushing to have it apply to the regular season as well," Rooney said of the overtime rule adopted at the NFL meetings last year. "We felt from the beginning that if you make a change in overtime, the same rules should apply in the regular season. It sounds like there is pretty good support, so there's a good chance it will be passed."

Rooney sees no reason a quarterback should not be protected from the horse-collar tackle everywhere on the field.

"As far as we're concerned, it is a dangerous play wherever it happens, particularly for a quarterback in the pocket. The fact he's not running with the ball, I understand there are different physics to it, but there's a hole in the rule, and we should close that loop. We give the quarterback a lot of protection and we just think this is a hole in the rule that ought to be changed."

Rooney also pushed previously to designate one injured player who can return to the field of play in the same season if he is placed on injured reserve. As the rules stand, players placed on injured reserve cannot return to play or practice until the following season.

Another proposed rule for these meetings states that a team can designate one player who could return after missing eight weeks to play in the same season -- no matter when he is placed on IR.

For example, the Steelers kept defensive end Aaron Smith on the 53-man roster the entire 2010 season through the Super Bowl, even though he did not play after his triceps muscle was torn in the sixth game. Had the new rule proposal been in place then, the Steelers could have put Smith on injured reserve -- and added another player to their 53-man roster -- with the idea that he might have returned to play.

The same could have been done with backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, whose left arm was broken in the third preseason game last season. He was healthy enough to play by midseason, but the Steelers had placed him on injured reserve.

Before the free-agency era, teams were permitted to put players on short-term injured reserve and add them back on the roster in the same season.

"It's been something we've discussed for a few years," Rooney said. "We just think it makes sense. We had it in the past, an injured reserve program where it was not a full season. The concern was then -- and it was probably a legitimate concern -- that people were stashing players and the injured reserve system was too liberal.

"We just think there are situations where a player injured early in the season or even training camp is able to come back for a good chunk of the season, you're paying him anyway, you ought to be able to bring him back."

Any player designated for such under the IR proposal must be on the roster for the first game of the season.

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.


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