ORLANDO — The NFL’s emphasis on player safety has been reinforced by data suggesting a lowered target zone is leading to fewer significant injuries.
On the opening day of the league’s annual spring meeting, commissioner Roger Goodell said he is encouraged by the decrease in injuries last season after the NFL implemented more stringent rules protecting defenseless receivers.
“They’ve been very effective and the evidence was clear today,’’ Goodell said Monday. “It is very clear that the rule changes we made have had the positive impact we intended. And while there are some that say it’s had a negative effect in terms of ACL injuries being up, that’s not the case.’’
Competition committee chairman Rich McKay echoed Goodell’s comments.
“I want to give credit to our coaches and players because you can see between 2013 and 2012 a real change, an adaptation to the rules and the target zone and moving the target lower,’’ said McKay, the former Bucs general manager who serves as president of the Falcons.
And while Bucs safety Dashon Goldson struggled to avoid personal foul penalties in his first season with Tampa Bay, McKay said the majority of NFL players adjusted quickly.
“Fines for hits on defenseless receivers went from 40 in 2012 to 25 last year, a significant move,’’ McKay said. “When you look at concussion rates for defensive backs and receivers, both are significantly down. That’s a big point in our mind. By the same token, we saw a decrease in ACL injuries to wide receivers and tight ends, combined.
“It’s one year. Let’s not make more of it than it is because there’s not enough data, but it is going in the right direction.’’
While addressing owners, coaches and executives during the morning session, Goodell could have had Aretha Franklin providing the background music.
“Let me leave you with one thought to guide us through the future — respect,’’ Goodell said at the general session. “Respect for our game and those that came before us. Respect for each other – teams, opponents and game officials. Respect for our fans, our lifeblood. Respect in our workplaces for the diversity that makes us stronger.
“Respect for our communities and the important role we play in those communities. It’s about the significance of being part of this, the shield. Let’s embrace the opportunity to make a difference. We’re expected to do that – by our fans, our business partners and others. We can and we will. Let’s go to work.”
When Monday’s meetings concluded, Goodell was asked about the bullying issues that plagued the Dolphins last season.
“This is a culture change,’’ he said, “and while modifying policies from time to time are important, this is more about people understanding the importance of a professional workplace, where there is respect for everybody.’’