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The Hip Drop Tackle Could Be The NFL’s Next Illegal Tackle

xx during an NFL divisional round playoff football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (Michael Owens via AP)
Michael Owens via AP

The tackle that ended Tony Pollard's season was not dirty by current NFL rules, but was it unnecessarily dangerous? The Washington Post reports that the league's competition committee will examine the “mechanics of the tackle in Pollard’s case,” presumably with an eye on potentially legislating it out of the game. It wouldn't be so far-fetched—the so-called hip drop tackle has already been banned by Australia's National Rugby League (NRL) because of its nasty habit of shredding ligaments.

Pollard suffered a high ankle sprain and a fractured fibula in Sunday's playoff loss to San Francisco, when he was dragged down by Niners cornerback Jimmie Ward. Pollard underwent surgery on Tuesday.

So what's a hip drop tackle? More or less what it sounds like. Ward wrapped up Pollard's waist, swung his own hips forward and dropped to the turf, in order to let gravity and his own body weight bring down Pollard. It's effective to stop a ballcarrier, but had the nasty side effect of trapping Pollard's leg beneath the tackler.

A similar tackle was responsible for Patrick Mahomes's high ankle sprain on Saturday, when Jaguars linebacker Arden Key dropped onto Mahomes's lower leg.

The NRL started issuing discipline for hip drop tackles in 2020, after a rash of leg and ankle injuries. Here's a video from the NRL's Walt Anderson equivalent explaining exactly what what defines a hip drop tackle, and here's a helpful compilation of offending examples. But even there, as you'd expect, enforcement has been bumpy. Not every instance has been punished, and even those that have, like Patrick Carrigan's four-week suspension for breaking Jackson Hastings's leg in July, have been slammed as too lenient in comparison to Hastings's season being over.

Now, the NFL is no stranger to poorly defined rules or inconsistent enforcement, so that is certainly no roadblock to the league banning hip drop tackles, if it chooses to do so. And even outside of head injuries, the league has used legislation to try to eliminate some of the most dangerous types of tackles. To name two: The horse-collar tackle became illegal in 2005, and the body-weight rule went into effect in 2018. This is a positive trend, even if it plays into the league's desired narrative that an inherently dangerous sport can be made anything resembling safe.

I suspect it's just a matter of time before the NFL penalizes hip drop tackles, but it is not necessarily on the menu just yet. The league is a reactive one, not a proactive one, and both those aforementioned bans were enacted in direct response to injuries to prominent players the previous season. Now if Mahomes's season had ended, or the Cowboys hadn't been eliminated? Perhaps it's a different story.

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