The NFL Should Legalize Holding

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday during the NFL season. Email Drew here. Buy his book here. 

Okay, so let’s all come to a détente and agree that NFL games are, at the moment, lackluster. The QBs are shit. The lines are shit. Everyone is hurt. And there are endless, endless penalty flags (stares daggers at Pete Morelli). Even though the NFL has successfully sped these games up, at least half the league’s teams remain downright unwatchable.


Coaches will tell you that the largest problem is curtailed practices and offseason workouts, and while this site tends to push labor issues on you like a grandma demanding you have a second bowl of soup, I’m more than willing to accept the grievances that John Harbaugh, et al., have regarding this (more on it down below in the game write-ups). But that’s not the sole factor when it comes to quality control. There are also constant and vague rule changes, poor player development, unimaginative coaching, more players getting pulled due to concussion issues (a welcome practice, but a factor nevertheless), suspensions, and lazy, greedy owners with little incentive to be good. Add it all up and sometimes it’s like watching replacement games out there.

Now, I could bitch all day at the NFL to do something about all of these problems in order to field a better product, but you and I know that’ll never happen. The NFL worked very hard to cultivate all of their entrenched, long-term woes, and they’re not going away anytime soon. What they need, then, is a cheat. They need a cheap, quick fix to help polish the turd, and I think I have just the kind of ridiculous, shortsighted answer they might require:


Legalize holding.

More specifically, I propose NFL legalize holding for offensive linemen, but only behind the line of scrimmage, and you can’t bring a defender to the ground. Please stop yelling. I don’t like it when you yell. Let me explain.

There are a lot of annoying penalties in the NFL, but holding is probably the most grating of them all. I have seen more great plays called back by ticky-tack holding calls than great plays upheld as legal. The fact that holding is a 10-yard penalty instead of five yards (because reasons?) makes it an instant drive killer. Moreover, as the old adage goes, there’s holding on every play, so the holding penalties that do get called are more or less called in an arbitrary fashion. As with pass interference, there is the overwhelming sense that games are being decided less by skill and more by whether or not Ed Hochuli looked up from his guns for a second and caught someone being bad.

Offensive line is a hard, thankless job. You don’t get to carry the ball. You don’t get any cool stats in the box score. You have 290-pound ends with sprinter speed barreling right at you and you aren’t even allowed to use your hands. I was an offensive lineman. Do you how aggravating it is that you can’t hold? I spent every play being like, “Christ, I wish I could hold.” That’s because I was lousy, but still. There remain some truly great o-linemen playing out there right now, but on the whole, it’s a position group that is finding itself increasingly outclassed—physically and schematically—by the beasts playing on the other side of the ball.


There’s also the fact that linemen, more than any other position, are frequently subjected to the kind of vicious collisions that have perpetuated the league’s brain injury crisis. If you can’t grab a guy, your best recourse to stop him is to bash into him…to use the rest of your body as weapon in the feeble hopes of slowing Von Miller down.

So here is what happens if you legalize holding. First of all, you get more downfield offense. All those dinky short passes that everyone hates that artificially inflate completion percentages? Gone. College football is just as evil as the NFL and has far longer games, and yet no one gives them much shit for it because college offenses MOVE. Secondly, you protect quarterbacks better, therefore making them better as well. Third, you reduce penalties. Last of all, you make the game somewhat almost a little bit safer for those poor linemen, because what was once a battle of collisions along the line of scrimmage is now more about close-in grappling instead.


I say this knowing that NFL defenders have already been tied into knots by the NFL rulebook. You can’t hit anyone. You can’t even THINK about hitting anyone. Pass defense downfield is all but impossible. It’s not fair, in the least, to make defenders’ jobs already harder than they are.

But also, I don’t really give a shit. I have seen more than a few NFL defenders make plays despite being held on passing downs. I am now ready to see what would happen if they had to train and gameplan for that holding to be legal. Also, just to help even the score, I would loosen up those rules in the secondary AND make it legal for defenders to grease themselves with silicone spray and/or Pam. I’m not cruel.


I know this is a dumb idea. I know that, in general, you are tired of this strain of take. I know that diagnosing the NFL’s core problems has nearly overtaken the NFL itself as the national pastime. And I know that this legalizing holding would be bastardizing the sport in order to manufacture extra scoring mostly for the sake of the NFL’s most casual fans.

But the NFL, of its own free will, has already bastardized itself multiple times over. They opened the door to all this tinkering. The game you watch now is not the game it once was, and that’s been true for a very long time now, for better and for worse. So if they wanna stop the bleeding, and it’s not clear that they really do, owners better be ready to bastardize it even further. Every spacey idea is worth considering, from getting rid of pads to installing weight limits to dozens of other drunken hypotheticals. Given all those options, legalizing holding—hell, you could even keep the holding rules but simply stop enforcing them—is about as quick and subtle a change as you can hope for. The NFL better do something, because I’m not watching the New York Giants offense any more than I have to.


The Games

All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms. 


 Five Throwgasms

Falcons at Lions: I’m gonna rue this statement in, like, two months, but I think the Lions are pretty good. I say that despite knowing that they haven’t fielded a 100-yard rusher in a game in four years, which is such a breathtaking marker of offensive futility that you’d think the Chiefs were the ones responsible for it. Regardless, Detroit is still a pleasantly competent team and I will be very sad when they somehow blow a three-game division lead to Green Bay with half a game left.


By the way, I know everyone goofs on Jim Caldwell for being unemotional during games. But half of all coaches get mocked for this. What do you want the guy to do over there? Go Full Harbaugh? You don’t want anyone going Full Harbaugh. I’m fine with Caldwell being a statue. Makes it all the more special and surprising when he actually decides to speak!


Four Throwgasms

Seahawks at Titans: Okay so, about the limited practice problem that is currently the bane of NFL coaches and front offices: I find it both logical and believable that NFL teams are starting off slower is because they haven’t had more practice time. HOWEVER, all that bitching conveniently blames the players alone for the game’s current problems, which we all know is a big lie. It may be one factor but it ain’t the only one. It also presupposes that players don’t work on their game on their own time, even though nearly all of them do. Donovan McNabb used to go to the desert every offseason to drag tires in the fucking sand. These guys work. They’re not layabouts. Without guaranteed deals, they can’t afford to be.


Limited practice has not stopped the GOOD teams like New England and Atlanta from looking sharp in the beginning of the season. The smart franchises usually find a way to adjust without making lame excuses. Also, while more practice might help, more HITTING may not. The Bill Walsh Niners were famous for limiting full-pad drills back in an era where dingbat coaches like Ditka would have players doing ladder matches in practice. It’s not necessarily about physicality. It’s about technique. Joe Montana would finish practice without a ball hitting the ground. That is the kind of practice that NFL teams need, and there’s nothing stopping owners from going to the players and asking for more practice time in return for, oh I dunno, health care. That seems fair, yes? That is why Jerry Richardson will be cold and dead in the ground before it ever happens.

Raiders at Skins: College GameDay is in New York on Saturday and ESPN is bending over backward to convince you that NYC is a college football town:


Ooooh, Purdue. Nothing says passion like finding the only two Purdue fans in America. I lived in New York for six years. Trust me: No one gives a shit about college football there. Even the supposed Southern expat bars like Brother Jimmy’s are limp. The reason GameDay is there this week is clearly to save some money, and because it just so happens that Disney’s in the middle of a cable dispute with an area provider. You aren’t fooling me, ESPN. No one cares about RUCKUHS football that much.


Three Throwgasms

Cowboys at Cardinals: I believe Zeke Elliott has more than a bit of turd in him but I will never stop laughing at THIS YOUNG MAN NEED TO GROW UP takes like this:


Imagine a sportswriter having the nuts to say this to another person. Like, you’re a sportswriter. I write about sports for a living and I am a COLOSSAL baby. Peter King gets mad at Amtrak wifi, for God’s sake. It’s just like some writer who spends all day prowling breakfast buffets and jacking off in a hotel room to be like, “This guy simply does NOT get it.”


Giants at Eagles: There is a Jersey Mike’s ad virtually every commercial break this season and I swear to you I have never seen a Jersey Mike’s sandwich shop in my fucking life. Does it really exist? Is it only regional to Kansas? Does Jersey Mike gun down African rhinos like Jimmy John does? I think Jimmy John’s is cold garbage, so I could honestly use a DISRUPTER in the “$5 Italian botulism sub” restaurant category.

Chiefs at Chargers: This week I learned that Charissa Thompson may be dating… Larry David?


Man, that is not a pairing I would have expected. I mean, good on Larry for it, but she must REALLY prize a man’s sense of humor. This marks the first time a sideline reporter has dated another famous person who was NOT famous for being a pro athlete.


Broncos at Bills: Three of the five best teams in the sport may currently reside in the AFC West. [comedian voice] Why not make the whole league out of the AFC West?


Two Throwgasms

Ravens at Jaguars (London): This game is fucking terrible. Instead, let’s marvel at the squareness of LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s head. Look at Ed’s melon and tell me this guy isn’t MODOK:


Incredible. If I played at LSU, I wouldn’t be able to pay attention in meetings. I would just sit there and stare at that dude’s cranium. You could store whole crates of fruit in it.


Saints at Panthers: I am 40 years old and have only just learned that the parts of the buffalo wing order that are not the drummettes are called “flats”. I had no idea. I wrote this post and then suddenly every reply to the wing question was about flats and I was like, Was I out the day they taught this in social studies? I feel like a total loser not knowing that flats are flats. You guys better not have a secret inside name for the crispy edge of a flauta or something. I would be very hurt. “Oh that? That’s called the coronita. You never knew?”

Bucs at Vikings: After what happened to Sam Bradford this week, I am ready for robot football. I’m FINISHED with human athletes, you hear me? All they do is get hurt. I want all injuries banned forever. Total waste of my fucking time to sit here and root for actual, fragile humans to not get hurt in a sport designed SPECIFICALLY to hurt them. It’s textbook insanity. Give me indestructible android players who have no outward feelings or personality. Like Brady! Gimme an all-Brady league. Someone put the Vikings Gen Z dipshit on it.


Steelers at Bears: 


Rams at Niners


One Throwgasm

Bengals at Packers: We always shit on announcers here, so let me take a second to even things up and say that Cris Collinworth did about as good a job on Thursday night of summing up the Joe Mixon story as he could. I’m paraphrasing but he basically said Mixon did one of the worst things you could ever do, and I guess he deserves a second chance but it’s a thin second chance. That sounds about right. You don’t have to belabor the point, you know? You can even admit you’re way out of your depth on something like that. It’s better than just glossing over it the way the SNF team did with Zeke Elliott the week prior.


By the way, I watched Mixon play and he looked… ordinary. I know Andy Dalton is dragging that offense into the sewer, but there was nothing about Mixon that made you go, “Now there’s a ladypuncher worth taking a risk on!”

Pats at Texans: I am genuinely in awe of J.J. Watt for raising so much money for Houston hurricane relief. He personally oversaw the spending of millions of dollars and organized the relief trucks going into the most affected areas. Now here’s a question for you: Who gets the money spent on those supplies? I’m not questioning the efficiency of this charity. What I’m saying is, let’s say Watt had to spend X amount on fuel for the trucks. Well, why the fuck didn’t oil companies DONATE that fuel, too? ExxonMobil pledged to match up to $3 million to relief donations made by their own employees. In other words, before they gave another cent past their initial donation (roughly $1 million), their workers had to give first, and the company would only donate up to what basically amounts to the faintest sliver of their profits. Fuck you, man. Give Houston ALL your oil. You did the bare fucking minimum. And what about gun companies? Do they EVER donate a cent of their profits? Does anyone ask? Sig Sauer should have to turn one of their rifles factories into a fucking canning plant.


Oh God, I’ve turned into GREGGGGGG. Shit.


Dolphins at Jets: ^^^^^^^

Pregame Song That Makes Me Want To Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall

“Werewolves of Armenia,” by Powerwolf. Yes, THE Powerwolf! From Chris:

Powerwolf is a German outfit that has been together for over a decade. Two of the band members have the last name Greywolf, but that still wasn’t enough for this band. To rock this hard, you had to replace Grey with POWER. Myself descending from the odd combo of Armenian/German lineage, this one’s got a little of something for all of my deceased relatives. Give it til about the 50 second mark – you’ll want to drink beer from a 3 liter stein and consume an entire lamb leg.


This is actually a hilariously bad song, but there was no way I wasn’t gonna include Powerwolf here. It’s Powerwolf! AGGRESSIVE GERMANS ARE BACK IN STYLE.

Gregg Easterbrook Memorial Haughty Dipshit Of The Week 


Skins fans can be an insufferable lot, but the one thing most of them agree on is that team play-by-play guy Larry Michael is the absolute fucking worst: a sniveling toady who muscled his way into the job by licking Dan Snyder’s boots. Michael is the Sean Spicer of Ashburn, willing to shill virtually any organizational talking point and treating the team like they’re eternally one play away from going 16-0. So I am indebted to the great Dan Steinberg for pointing out this magnificent profile of Michael in something called Northern Virginia Magazine, a profile that gleefully ignores the fact that Michael is universally despised. WITNESS:

Larry Michael: Painting by Numbers High Above a Field of Dreams

That’s the headline, man! FedEx Field is basically an ongoing sequel to The Warriors, so we’re already in Full Bullshit Mode here.

Larry Michael escorted a visitor through the cheery lobby of the main building at the sprawling Redskins Park campus in Ashburn. Brimming with the agility and poise of a wide receiver running a route, Michael knew all the moves, stopping and starting along the path to greet colleagues.


WHOA HOLY SHIT! This guy knows the floor plan of his office! Why, it’s almost like he’s a ballerina!

Seconds later, Michael arrived at his refreshingly unpretentious office in the slice of the squat building that functions as the communications nerve center.


I wanna know what constitutes a refreshingly unpretentious office. Like, pens? A frayed mouse pad? Was this writer expecting a rock garden?

Within these four walls…

LOL IT’S A FUCKING ROOM. “Behind this door and its fabled hinges, Michael pivots deftly like a swan upon placid waters…”

…with Michael at the helm, information is sourced and analyzed before it is meticulously shaped and channeled to a waiting public audience.


Indeed, Michael uses the power of DATA to answer such questions as, “Why are the Skins the bestest?” and “What makes Dan Snyder so handsome?” and “Who has the edge in intangibles every week because they ROOL?”

The typical fan who tunes in to the games on the radio might only know Michael as the rich, crackling voice at the microphone high above FedEx Field...


No, the typical fan knows him as a dipshit.

In fact, Michael plays other key positions in his workhorse, workaday world: senior vice president and executive producer of media for the team.


Oh well, that’s not a strange conflict of interest all! Oh hey guy, the team announcer just also happens to have a McMahon-like stronghold over all team communiques!

No other team, Michael says, in clipped, razor-sharp verbiage…

RAZOR SHARP! Such sharp verbiage within these hallowed drywall panels.

…produces the quantity of Redskins-themed programming, relying on every platform in the media universe. That includes a daily TV show, Redskins Nation, airing 52 weeks a year. “No other team, even the Yankees, do this,” he assures. “We have a real, robust newsroom.”


So true. A newsroom that produces things like this:


Or this!


Football dies in darkness, people.

Says the Rev. Steven Zorzos, who pastors St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Northwest Washington: “Larry’s mellifluous voice resonates with the timbre reminiscent of that of the great longtime Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard…



It’s something ethereal and heavenly, like murmuring clouds.

The clouds…they murmur to me. They say…“that was an ill-advised pass by Kurt Cousins.”

His job is extremely difficult.

No it’s not.

Larry must always balance his devoted commitment to the Washington Redskins with the truth of the game. It is not at all easy to root for your beloved team, who happens to be your employer, and objectively criticize shortcomings and failures as they arise.”


Which is why Larry doesn’t. This pastor is literally the only person in DC who likes Larry Michael.

Rex Ryan’s Lock Of The Week: Bears +7.5


(sees Mike Glennon)

“Son, that is a hell of a fucking neck you got right there. HOO SHIT! I wanna get loaded and throw a horseshoe at that thing! We had safety with that kinda neck back when I was playing at Oatbutt Middle School! His name was Dabney Musselman and ol’ Dab had a head that looked like it was sitting on top of a periscope! He actually broke that neck in three places against Wayland. Ducked his head going for the hit and BLAMMO! Ol’ Dab never walked again. The good news is that the surgery took at least an inch off that freakshow neck of his. He may have been confined to a wheelchair, but at least he didn’t look like a Dr. fucking Seuss character, you know what I mean? Also, that nasty hit forced the game-sealing fumble! THE BOY WAS A GODDAMN HERO, if you ask me. I say it’s worth eating applesauce through a straw for the rest of your life for that kinda glory!”


Ryan 2016 record: 2-0

Fantasy Player Who Deserves To Die A Slow, Painful Death

Jordy Nelson. No one cares about anyone else’s bad fantasy beat, but I’m gonna tell you mine anyway because I am selfish and vain. I was down by less than a point to deputy editor and cat person Barry Petchesky last week. His players were finished. I had Jordy. All I needed was for Jordy to catch one fucking ball and I would have myself a cool $10.


So what happens? That little bastard tweaks a quad, heads to the sideline, and stays there for the entire goddamn game. YOU BAG OF SHIT. I couldn’t even focus on the game itself because I was so full of white hot rage checking the Green Bay huddle and not seeing weak little Jordy Nelson in there. Fucking bullshit. FUCKING BULLSHIT, YOU HEAR ME? Barry’s a terrible person. He thinks KFC is as good as Popeye’s. He deserves none of that good fortune. He deserves to BURN.

Fire This Asshole!

Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we’ll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year’s end or sooner. And now, your potential 2017 chopping block:


Chuck Pagano*****

Hue Jackson

Marvin Lewis

Sean Payton

John Fox*

Bill O’Brien

Bruce Arians

Doug Pederson

Ben McAdoo

Jay Gruden

Todd Bowles*

(*-potential midseason firing)

They’re still never gonna get rid of Marvin, huh? Somehow he’s gonna survive this utter debacle of a season despite the fact that the Bengals have NO excuse to be this terrible. I get the Jets and Browns having nightmare seasons. Those were by design. But Cincinnati has actual players. It’s as if they didn’t have training camp at all. Even knowing everything I know about how the Bengals operate, I’m still aghast. They’re ugly.


Great Moments In Poop History

Reader Ryan chimes in with a story I call APOOPALYPSE NOW:

I’m sitting on a green line train in Boston, going from downtown to my house in th suburbs. I just shit myself. I have nineteen stops to go. Let me tell you how I got here.

I just finished a six-person, three bottle of wine dinner at an Italian restaurant in the North End. I had gnocchi, but also baby octopus as an appetizer. I plowed through the octopi, and ate a full basket of bread en route to devouring my full plate of gnocchi (with extra, extra creamy cheese). I happily left my guests at the restaurant when we went our separate ways and bounded over to the T station nearby. (Update: now have 14 stops to go) I felt a little wrong, but nothing serious.

My dad told me that love is like a fart, in that if you have to force it, it’s probably shit. I’m sure he stole that from somewhere, but tonight, after my twenty five years on this earth, I found out why that was true.

I farted. It was fine. I had another fart. I pushed it out...shit. I am sitting on this train with five other people who are all staring daggers at me. My ass is filled with liquid shit that I can feel dripping towards my knees.

I can’t get off, I just moved here and don’t have anywhere to go but my apartment, which is now 12 stops away.

I’m honestly thinking about trying to jump in front of the train at the next opportunity.


Is it wrong that I came away from this really wanting to try that baby octopus? I’d consider shitting myself for an expertly cooked baby octopus. By the way, I sent Ryan a followup email asking if he made it, and this story has a happy ending:

I made it. Walked up to my driveway, threw away my pants, underwear, and shoes, walked into my house ass naked, and into the shower where I sat for a long, long while.


Poor guy.


Gametime Snack Of The Week


Reese’s cup with Reese’s Pieces inside of them! I bought the inception Reese’s this week and tried them, and my takeaway is that they taste pretty much like a regular Reese’s cup, only sometimes you get little bit of the shell crunch. My son, though, went apeshit over them. I think you can trick a child into believing that the candy inside the cup counts as EXTRA candy. Children spend 90% of their day tallying candy in their little heads, so he’s definitely never going back to plain, candy-free Reese’s cups ever again.

Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week


MOSI! From Africa! Reader Bryan sends in this bottle of tasty sewage from Zambia:

Mosi Lager! From Zambia. Zambia is a beautiful country full of wonderful people but this beer is...not great. It tastes like someone left some hay soaking in tap water for a few days. It will do in a pinch when nothing else is available and you want to drunkenly stumble into a hippo infested river. The tag line is “As Mighty as Zambia’s Mosi-Oa-Tunya”


Okay, now I wanna go to Zambia (which, unlike Nambia is a real country) right away. It has beer AND waterfalls. That’s pretty much all I need. I would like to stand in the waterfall while drinking this puke beer. It would put me at peace. I MUST LET THE WATER CRUSH ME.

Jim Tomsula’s Lifehack Of The Week!


“People buying these power massagers are getting robbed in broad daylight, okay? If you want a massage, you don’t need some Japanese Suzuki type machine. All you need is an old hairbrush. Hairbrush Jane collects them by the thousands and’ll trade you one for a wad of dryer lint. Now, you take that brush, you pull out the cat hair, and you jam the handle into your spine, okay? There you go. Perfectly good massager, all right? You don’t need to see any chiropractice or none of that stuff. And that cat hair? You can add that to any broth and give it healing properties. This is not mystic fairy talk. This is proven hairbrush science.”

Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Browns Fans 

Moana. I watched this with my sons this weekend and was choking up for at least half of it. It takes nothing for a Disney or Pixar movie to ruin me. Anyway, the movie ends and I wipe away the tears and I pull the tough dad move where I’m like, “I guess that was pretty good.” Very smooth move. My innate wussiness was virtually undetectable.


The boys said the movie was weird. Ingrates. SHE BRAVED THE SEAS AND RESTORED THE HEART OF TE FITI. What have you ungrateful kids ever done, huh?!

 Gratuitous Simpsons Quote

“How many times can you laugh at that cat getting hit by the moon?”


Enjoy the games, everyone.