He doesn’t play football for a living anymore, nor does he tackle anyone on Sundays. Nevertheless, former cornerback Troy Vincent is still on the defensive … only now it’s from some of his peers.
As the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations and as a member of the league’s competition committee, Vincent is in the middle of rule changes and emphases aimed at mitigating the violence in a violent sport. But those rules seem aimed at one side of the ball, and it’s the side Vincent played for 15 years in the NFL.
That’s a problem for some of his former teammates and opponents, who have expressed their dissatisfaction with the direction of today’s game. But it’s a problem for some of today’s players and coaches, too, many of whom don’t understand how and when roughing-the-passer and lowering-the-helmet calls are made.
So we asked Vincent, who’s one of 102 candidates on the Hall-of-Fame’s preliminary list for the Class of 2019. What we wanted to know is if a former defensive standout can recognize the game as it’s played today — especially from the defensive side of the ball.
“I get asked that question, and it’s interesting,” Vincent said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “Most of the push-back comes from the former player … Brian (Dawkins) is one. And Hugh Douglas. Lawyer Milloy and Takeo Spikes. And London Fletcher would hit me up on Sunday during the games, and say, ‘Man, show me a clip of a ‘backer’ coming right down the middle and who’s hitting a quarterback the right way.’
“You have to pause. And you say, ‘Because we know better today, gentlemen’ — and I always say, ‘Just take a step back and just listen. It’s a different time and a different era. The game isn’t softer. But, men, the one thing that I think about on a daily basis, personally, is your quality of life. And these are necessary rule changes. The helmet should never be used as a weapon.’
“(Hall-of-Fame linebacker) Willie Lanier says this all the time to our Player Health and Safety Committee, as he comes in and he’s advising us: ‘This is a professional sport. This is not a blood sport. You can’t make it a blood sport. There’s a care that you have to have for your opponent. Yeah, you want to be physical, but that doesn’t take away from the physicality of the game.’
“I just believe these are necessary changes that we have to make for the overall well-being of the game. And just knowing what I know now — I grew up in an era where I was taught to bite the ball. I was taught to do things that no one told me weren’t right, but I know better today. And as a gatekeeper with two sons playing ball — two young boys who are student-athletes — I want all kids and all parents to feel like this game is good for their children.
“So, some of these changes in the use of helmet, the defenseless player, as we look at roughing the passer … all these things really are in the best interests … we believe … of the long-term well-being of the game.”
All of which is great, except … you risk taking defense out of the game, and today’s numbers reflect it. Scoring this season is at an all-time high. Touchdowns are at an all-time high. Passer ratings are at an all-time high. Completion percentages are at all-time high.
Patrick Mahomes throws for 13 touchdowns in three weeks. Ryan Fitzpatrick has three consecutive 400-yard passing games. Drew Brees completes 76 percent of his passes.
I think you get the idea. Defense is on the retreat from league-enforced rules, with games sometimes resembling 7-on-7 drills.
“Well, that’s where I think we have to be careful,” said Vincent. “I think there’s a fine balance. But guess what? The fans want to see points scored. They don’t want to see people harmed. They don’t want to see people taken off in stretchers where we used to celebrate those things.
“To your point: There’s a fine balance. And in trying to find that balance, we need both fan input, your input, player input and then what does the data and video tell us. And then try to strike that right balance.”