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Ravens Insider: Hip-drop tackle that injured Ravens TE Mark Andrews could be outlawed by NFL next season


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The tackle that injured Ravens tight end Mark Andrews last year could be banned by the NFL by next season.

The league’s competition committee has formally proposed making hip-drop tackles illegal, resulting in a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down. The proposal could be voted on at next week’s owners meeting in Orlando, Florida, and would require 24 of 32 votes to be approved.

Hip-drop tackles — in which, according to the competition committee, a defender “unweights himself by swiveling and dropping his hips and/or lower body, landing on and trapping the runner’s leg(s) at or below the knee” — have been a significant talking point the past two seasons and there was discussion about a potential rule change going into effect in 2023, but the competition committee never made a formal proposal. NFL data has shown that a player is 25 times more likely to suffer an injury from a hip-drop tackle than other tackles.

On the opening drive of last season’s Week 11 game against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium, Andrews caught a short pass from quarterback Lamar Jackson near the Bengals’ 5-yard line and was tackled by linebacker Logan Wilson, who rolled onto the tight end’s legs as he dragged him down. Jackson threw his helmet to the ground in frustration and knew immediately the injury was severe.

Baltimore scored on the drive and won the game, 34-20, but lost Andrews for the remainder of the regular season with a severe ankle injury that included a fractured tibia and ligament damage. The former All-Pro did not return until the AFC championship game.

“It’s a tough tackle,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said last November. “Was it even necessary in that situation?”

Not everyone necessarily supported outlawing it, however, including two of Andrews’ own teammates at the time.

“I hate that Mark is hurt,” said inside linebacker Patrick Queen, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Prayers for him, but at the end of the day, we play football. We play a tackling sport.

“I don’t think a hip-drop tackle is that bad of a thing. How else do you want us to tackle? Just let the guy run past you? … At the end of the day, we play football. We have pads on. We have all that stuff on for a reason.”

Added safety Kyle Hamilton: “The hip drop, I feel like you can’t necessarily [avoid it] because you don’t know exactly what’s gonna happen. You’re trying to get them down by any means necessary. I mean, if it happens that way, it happens that way. I don’t think anybody means anything malicious by it.”

Andrews called his more than two months of rehabilitation and time away “a test” but didn’t have a problem with the tackle.

“If they want to ban the tackle, [that’s] fine, but I’m going to go out there and play hard no matter what,” he said in January. “I don’t blame the guy. He’s just playing ball.”

Several players, including Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback and three-time Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes, have suffered injuries in recent years on what appear to have been hip-drop tackles. But last season the scrutiny intensified in the wake of the injuries to Andrews as well as New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson.

Last year, Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, called the hip-drop tackle a “cousin” of the horse-collar tackle, which was banned in 2005.

“When they do it, the runner becomes defenseless,” McKay said. “They can’t kick their way out from under. And that’s the problem. That’s where the injury occurs. You see the ankle get trapped underneath the weight of the defender.”

The NFL Players’ Association, however, has long been against banning the tackle, a view that has not changed.

Former Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell, now with the Atlanta Falcons and a vice president of the league’s executive committee, said in February that while the NFLPA wants to keep players healthy, “there’s only so much you can restrict the game and still call it football.”

“A lot of rules that were put in place over the last 10-plus years that made the game a lot safer were big adjustments for players,” Campbell said. “I feel like this particular rule change, I don’t understand how you can police it the right way and allow us to do our job.”

In the days after Andrews’ injury, Harbaugh declined to share his thoughts on the idea of a ban, but said if the competition committee decided to do something, “it would be for a good reason.”

“Whatever they decide to do, at whatever point in time, you just abide by it, and you say, ‘Hey, it’s what’s best,'” Harbaugh said in November. “Then, in the offseason, I’m sure there will be a debate, and it will be voted on and all that.”

Outlawing the hip-drop tackle is just one of a handful of proposals from the competition committee that could go into effect next season.

Others included: revamping kickoffs; adding whether a passer is out of bounds or down by contact before throwing and whether the game clock has expired before a snap to the list of reviewable plays; expanding the rule against crackback blocks to players “who go in motion and move beyond the center to block a defender at or below the knee”; and allowing teams to use a practice squad quarterback as the emergency No. 3 quarterback.

Of those, the kickoff proposal would be the biggest on-field rule change in years.

Under the proposal, kickers would continue to kick from the 35-yard line, but the other 10 players would line up at the receiving team’s 40. At least nine members of the receiving team would, meanwhile, line up in a “setup zone” between the 35 and 30. As many as two returners would be allowed to line up in a “landing zone” between the goal line and the 20 and no one other than the kicker and returner(s) can move until the ball hits the ground or a player inside the landing zone. Touchbacks would be marked at the 35 and no fair catches would be allowed.

Also, if a team wants to attempt an onside kick, it would have to inform officials and would then be allowed to use a traditional kickoff formation.

The kickoff proposal is designed to reverse declining return rates while also lowering concussion rates and, if approved, would go into effect for only one season.

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