NFL wants referees to focus on illegal contact fouls

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The NFL has asked its on-field officials to pay special attention to illegal contact errors during the 2022 season, a league spokesman confirmed Monday. The request could lead to an increase in such flags after a big drop in the 2021 season.

Illegal contact refers to prohibited contact by a defender when the quarterback still has the ball and remains in the pocket. It is a 5-yard penalty and results in an automatic first down.

Officials reported illegal contact an average of 97 times per season between 2002 and 2020, but that number dropped to 36 last season. The fall prompted the NFL’s competition committee to include illegal contact among its “points of clarification,” formerly known as “points of emphasis,” for the 2022 season.

When administering illegal contact, officials must first identify the illegal contact and then confirm the position of the ball and the quarterback. The committee encouraged officials to move more quickly from contact to the quarterback to better enforce the foul.

League sources surveyed by ESPN disagreed on whether the wording of this year’s illegal contact instructions will lead to an increase in flags, as it did after the previous two points emphasizing the infraction. In 2014, illegal contact flags increased to 148 from 52 in 2013. In 2004, they increased to 191 from 79 in 2003.

Another important point of clarification for 2022 will be about the roughing of the passer errors. The competition committee has clarified that contact to the helmet and below the knee area must be enforced, recognizing that some officials have flagged for less contact in recent seasons.

As they do every summer, referee teams visit training camps to update players and coaches on all new rules and clarifications.

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