Vincent says NFL officiating a ‘work in progress’

‘Work in progress’: NFL’s Roger Goodell, Troy Vincent address officiating complaints

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Stephen A.: Mahomes and Reid embarrassed themselves with ref complaints (2:43)

Stephen A. Smith says Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid embarrassed themselves by complaining about the offside call in the Chiefs’ loss to the Bills. (2:43)

  • Jeremy Fowler, senior NFL national reporterDec 13, 2023, 06:45 PM ET

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    • ESPN staff writer
    • Previously a college football reporter for CBSSports.com
    • University of Florida graduate

IRVING, Texas — The NFL hears the rampant complaints about its officiating and is trying to do something about it.

But it won’t apologize for correct calls, commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid were the latest stars to sound off on officiating after wide receiver Kadarius Toney was flagged for offensive offside to negate a late, brilliant touchdown play between Travis Kelce and Toney. Toney’s foot was clearly in the neutral zone.

“I think almost everybody has acknowledged that the officials are absolutely correct,” Goodell said. “That’s their job to call it a foul … I think it shows you how difficult it is to do their job.”

Vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said, “we have to act responsibly” when calls are missed because “we want the game to be played on the field.”

The NFL has a weekly internal grading system for each crew, and it has attempted to keep the same crews together on a consistent basis this season.

“We’re always looking to improve officiating. It’s a constant work in progress,” Vincent said. “We’re not perfect. The concern is to make sure we’re getting better.”

Total penalties per team each game, which includes declined penalties, is 7.2 this season, up from 6.6 last year and the highest since 2019 (8.1). Several star players have begun publicly questioning the consistency of officiating. That criticism has reached the broadcast booth, where “Monday Night Football” game analyst Troy Aikman criticized Monday night’s Packers-Giants crew for taking too long to decipher a play.

“We understand [criticism]. That’s not new,” Goodell said. “You get that. It’s frustrating. We know how hard the players are playing … We know how much the fans put into it.”

While the league knows it can’t get every call right, Goodell said, officials are “going to sure work our ass off to [get close].”

The NFL discussed several officiating matters this week in Dallas, though no changes will be made until the competition committee officially addresses them in March.

  • Owners discussed the tush push play made famous by the Philadelphia Eagles, but right now there’s not much momentum to change that. The sample size of the play is too small to conclude there’s any enhanced injury risk. “Philly does it better than everyone else; that’s a fact,” Vincent said. “You don’t want to punish anyone for doing something well.”

  • The NFL considers the hip-drop tackle a “gruesome play,” per Vincent, but it won’t outlaw hustle plays or from-behind tackles. The chief concern is the grip-rotate-drop tactic that is increasing injury rate. NFL research shows the hip-drop tackle carries 20 to 25 times the injury risk of a traditional tackle, per vice president of health and safety Jeff Miller. And the trend seems to be going up. Goodell said of the hip-drop tackle: “I think we should work to get that out of the game.”

  • Vincent called the one-year kickoff touchback experiment a “dead” and “ceremonial play” that reduces injury but isn’t a long-term fix. The league has asked the competition committee to discover alternatives. “What we can’t do is stay where we are,” Vincent said.

  • The NFL is discussing the merits of a fumble through the end zone resulting in a touchback for the defense. Packers president Mark Murphy called the rule “too punitive.” Changes to the current rule could come in the offseason.