The Unwritten Rules Of The NFL

Football | 8/26/19

No pro sports league has more “unwritten” rules than Major League Baseball. That isn’t to say, though, that other leagues don’t have them as well. The NFL has its fair share of rules. Many of them pertain to player safety and making sure that you don’t endanger the health of another player.

Other rules are also common during the preseason. That’s the time when teams break in their younger players out and make sure they understand the rules of the game. Below is a list of some of the most common edicts that players and coaches use to control the game.

No Grabbing During Pileups

never hit another player during a pile up in the NFL
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Pileups happen quite frequently during games. A ball pops loose and all of a sudden, there is a mass of humanity all fighting for the pigskin. The opportunity for players to poke an eye, twist a finger or worse is all out there.

According to players, though, only the true dirty players try to take advantage of this scrum. While some guys have grabbed other’s family jewels during a pileup, the act is considered quite inappropriate and is definitely frowned upon.

Don’t Blast Someone Who’s Not Involved In The Play

dont hit someone who isn't involved with the play in the NFL
Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

During many football plays, the ball ends up far away from most of the players on the field. Whether a deep pass is completed, a kick is returned or an interception is thrown, there are many vulnerable players that can be taken out.

This situation used to be worse, like when Hall of Famer Warren Sapp trucked Packers lineman Chad Clifton far from the play. The league now heavily fines players for such hits, but they do still occur.

Respect Your Elders

young players in the NFL must show respect to older players
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It is commonly known that younger players are going to be asked to stay quiet and do some demeaning tasks for the veterans. While some of this is done in good fun, there is also a method to the madness.

The coaches and front office task the vets with breaking in the young players and getting them ready to learn. The older players have been through the ringer and known what to expect. They can give young players incredible insight and it’s essential that they are listened to.

Don’t Touch The Quarterback In Practice

dont tackle the quarterback in practice in the NFL
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Keeping the Quarterback healthy is a incredibly important goal for any team that may hope to be a contender. And practices always feature plenty of injuries. So the Quarterback normally wears a red jersey in practice that shows players that they shouldn’t be touched.

Even when teams plan on keeping the Quaterback healthy during practice, it doesn’t always happen. After an amazing first few games to his professional career, Houston’s Deshaun Watson tore his ACL during a practice in 2017.

Don’t Go For A Two Point Conversion Unless The Chart Tells You To

dont go for two in the NFL if you don't have to
Alika Jenner/Getty Images
Alika Jenner/Getty Images

After many years of only allowing extra points, the NFL reincorporated the two point conversion in 1994. There is a chart that tells coaches when to go for two and when the kick an extra point. Most coaches treat it as gospel.

With a recent rise in analytical thinking, though, some coaches are going for the two point conversion long before the chart says they should. One good example of this is the Rams offensive wunderkind, Sean McVay.

Don’t Talk About Other Players Contracts

never talk about another players contract in the nfl
Tom Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images
Tom Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

Jealousy is a very natural feeling. And football players are confident people who often feel like they are more talented than their peers. But at the end of the day, NFL players belong to a union and big contracts help every member of the union.

There is an unwritten rule that players should not discuss the contracts of other players. This makes sense for a number of reasons and is largely observed by each and every guy in the league.

Rookies Need To Keep Quiet

as a rookie in the nfl you should never talk about how good you were in college
Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images
Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images

A lot of players in the NCAA live as campus heroes with larger than life statuses. When they come into the NFL, though, the stars of the league simply don’t care. So regardless of what kind of reputation they had in college, rookies are told to keep quiet.

Lots of rookie have relented against this rule and have been put in their place by vets. Dez Bryant at one point refused to carry veteran Roy Williams pads and was soon hit with $54,000 dinner tab.

Don’t Hit A Player Who Is Laying Up As They Go Out Of Bounds

dont hit a player as they go out of bounds in the NFL
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There is a general rule of don’t try to intentionally injure other players. This rule can take a number of forms. One of those is that you don’t try to take a shot of a player who is slowing up to go out of bounds.

While this is another situation where the NFL will try to protect players by fining offenders big money, it still happens every once in a while. Plenty of players have been hurt on this kind of play.

No Poking Eyes

dont poke another player in the eyes in the NFL
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Emotions can run high during a game and some players are willing to do anything to win. While the NFL helmet protects the head, they allow the players’ eyes to be poked if the opponent feels so inclined.

This happened in a 2015 game between the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts when Cornerback Aqib Talib poked Tight End Dwayne Allen in the eyes. Following the game, a remorseful Talib regretted his actions and apologized to both Allen and his teammates.

Don’t Celebrate When You’re Losing

dont celebrate touchdowns when your far behind in the nfl
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

NFL stars work very hard at their craft and are naturally excited when they make a big catch or get behind the line for a sack. The level of celebration, though, should be equal to how important the play actually is in the game.

It’s not uncommon to see a player run for a long gain and turn around, point for the first down and spin the ball. When that action is frowned upon, though, is when their team is down by four touchdowns.

Don’t Step On Another Player

never stop on another player in the NFL
Jerome Davis/Getty Images
Jerome Davis/Getty Images

Football is a violent and dangerous game and players often end up exposed while laying on the ground. It should be self-explanatory that it is wrong to step in these players when they are so obviously vulnerable.

Some players, though, try to break this sort of written rule. A notable example is Ndamukong Suh, who has multiple instances of stepping on players on the ground. The most recent of these occurred in 2014 when Suh stepped on Aaron Rodgers leg.

Don’t Go Kamikaze On Special Teams During The Preseason

in the preseason in the nfl, players should avoid dangerous blocks that can cause injuries
2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images
2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The preseason is a trying time for players on the edge of the roster who are attempting to make the team. For a lot of these guys, the only way to make the team could be by impressing the special teams coach.

Still, those players at the end of the roster are encouraged by their teammates to not get crazy while trying to make the club. Doing things like wedge busting can cause injuries to a number of different players.

No Blitzing When The Other Team Is In Victory Formation

in the nfl, when the other team is in victory formation do not blitz
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

When the opposing team goes into victory formation, there is basically nothing the other team can do to turn the tide. That doesn’t mean, though, that some players and coaches don’t attempt to blitz while the other team downs the ball.

This could really lead to injury and players hate it. Former Tampa Bay Coach Greg Schiano is remembered for having his team attack a team downing the ball. This led to a memorable confrontation with then Giants Coach Tom Coughlin.

Leave The Knees Alone

dont aim for another players knees in the nfl when tackling
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Regardless of what position a guy may play, their knees are incredibly important to them. Knee injuries are incredibly common in the NFL and they can affect both a players’ current career and their lifestyle afterward.

Knee injuries occur during a number of different types of situations. Since all players fear and injury there, they will encourage their teammates to leave their opponents’ knees alone. Hits to the knees can often start big-time brawls between the two teams.

Fights Between Teammates Are OK In Preseason

in the nfl it is okay for teammates to get into fights furing the preseason
Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every summer, NFL teams come together after a long layoff. Most squads feature a number of new members whether they be rookies or free agents from another team. Tempers are high and fights between teammates are not only common, but they are also seemingly encouraged.

Once the season starts, however, those fights between teammates need to end. Training camp is meant to be the time where the players get to know each other and build bonds. Once the games start for real, the real enemy is revealed.

Don’t Play For Overtime In The Preseason

in the nfl preseason, play for the win, not overtime
Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Preseason games are a necessary evil for NFL teams. While some players need the experience and some guys need to be evaluated, most coaches just want to get the game over with as few injuries as humanely possible.

So when a team scores a TD to tie the game late, many choose to go for a 2 pt conversion rather than kicking an extra point and going into overtime. Not only does this rule limit injuries, it also makes for much more exciting football.

Pay Franchise Quarterbacks Whatever It Takes

pay the quarterback whatever it takes nfl unwritten rules
Tim Warner/Getty Images
Tim Warner/Getty Images

Teams can go through extremely long periods without having a true franchise quarterback suit up. So when a team hits on one whether it be through a draft or trade, they usually do whatever it takes to keep them.

This has led to a number of QBs in the league that don’t quite measure up to stardom level being paid huge sums of money. Most teams, though, are just unwilling to let their quarterback walk and begin the grooming process all over again.

Veteran Stars Get Favorable Calls

established veterans in the nfl get preferential treatment from the referees
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Of course, this is something that the NFL or its officials would never admit. But for any fan watching a game, it seems quite obvious that players who have accomplished a lot in the sport seem to get preferential treatment.

This is often seen with Tom Brady and and New England Patriots. A quick glance from Brady to the referee can quickly turn a pass breakup into a pass interference or a clean hit into a roughing the passer call.

Pull Up When You’re Blowing The Other Team Out

when a team is up by several points, they should start running and stop passing in the nfl
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Some days, one team just completely outclasses the other team. Many games end up being nailbiters and others are basically over by halftime. When a match-up is a blowout, most coaches will put their foot on the breaks and not embarrass the other team.

Some coaches, though, are an exception to the rule. During the Patriots undefeated regular season in 2007, Bill Belichick regularly had the team continue to throw the ball long after the other team had been defeated.

Don’t Go After Another Player’s Jewelry

dont grab another players jewelry in the nfl to tackle them
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

When dreadlocks became more popular the NFL declared that players could be tackled by hair that came out from under the helmet. Many players often wear jewelry during games as well, but players usually avoid grabbing the chains of their opponents.

One notable exception to this rule is again, Aqib Talib. The Cornerback and wide receiver Michael Crabtree had multiple dust-ups that led to a fistfight in 2017. During the fight, Talib ripped Crabtree’s chain from off his neck.