NFL Players Don’t Want This Injury-Causing Tackle Banned

The next great debate between the Players Union and the league will be over the hip-drop tackle

Mark Andrews #89 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackled by Logan Wilson #55 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the first quarter of the game at M&T Bank Stadium on November 16, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. Andrews was injured on the play with a hip-drop tackle.
Mark Andrews fell victim to the hip-drop tackle this season
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

At a Super Bowl week press conference in Las Vegas yesterday, the Executive Director of the National Football League Players Union (NFLPA), Lloyd Howell, said some not-surprising things, but also something that might shock fans.

He threw his support behind the concept that every single NFL stadium have a grass field because they are easier on the bodies of the players he represents than those made of synthetic materials. It makes sense that the head of the NFLPA would support a measure that cuts down on injuries, especially after a season where artificial turf may have played a role in the destruction of a team’s championship hopes within minutes of its beginning. (RIP to Aaron Rodgers’ healthy Achilles tendon.)

But when Howell discussed the hip-drop tackle, which has been blamed for injuries to high-profile players Mark Andrews and Tony Pollard during this past regular season, he said while standing alongside NFL players that it should not be banned — a measure the league wants to take as early as this coming offseason. Running back Austin Ekeler went so far as to say that outlawing the tackle would be “detrimental to the game.”

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What is the hip-drop tackle? According to a recent segment on NBC Sports, it’s when a defender grips a ball carrier with one or two hands, swings around the body of the ball carrier to a position where he’s behind him, and then drops his body weight on the carrier’s legs to bring him to the ground.

One defensive coach in a recent article in The Athletic about the hip-drop tackle described it as a maneuver of “desperation.” The same piece also noted that a New Zealand rugby league recently banned the tackle, which, given the violence level of that sport, is really saying something. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in December 2023, after a meeting with the league’s owners, “We’ve got to work very hard to get that removed this spring” because the types of injuries associated with the hip-drop tackle “can be very devastating.” Yesterday, Howell said he wants to ensure the players are heard on the issue before any rules are changed, potentially in a league competition committee meeting.

So why would the players want to keep the hip-drop tackle around? Per The Athletic, Ekeler said a ban would create yet another “gray area call” for officials. “[I]t’s part of football,” he added. “Like, you’re tackling people, there’s your body’s going to get twisted and turned all over the place and it’s because you kind of just, you lay out and you go out at full speed, both guys going with a lot of energy.”

Defensive end Calais Campbell also said the hip-drop tackle should remain an option for defenders like him. “How do you tackle a guy, and I grabbed him, and I’m trying to get to the ground, you know, you kind of pull him down and I kind of fall on his legs — not on purpose, of course, — that’s just a football play,” he said. “I know that the whole point is keeping guys on the field and we as players want to keep guys on the field more than anyone. But at the same time, there’s only so much you can restrict in the game and still call it football. Taking this out of the game isn’t going to work.”

Safety Michael Thomas said of the potential hip-drop tackle ban, “I don’t really know how to play football, if they actually put that rule into effect.”

Hearing remarks like that one wonders if another motivating factor behind a ban of the tackle would be to spur even more offense. In the past, the NFL has altered rules with this in mind to great effect. Instead of 47.5 points for the Super Bowl’s over/under line, maybe next year’s will be 147.5.

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