The NFL has made thigh and knee pads mandatory equipment for the 2013 season, something the players' union could oppose because the move was not collectively bargained.
Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, said Tuesday at an owners meeting that because this is a playing rule, the league can apply it unilaterally.
"We have a vote of the membership and can implement," McKay said. "Some of us felt we were remiss that we took it out of the rule book — high school and college makes it mandatory — and in our mind that is how it should be and will be in 2013.
"We have some work to do with the union."
McKay said the league will meet with NFL Players Association representatives on the issue, something they have discussed in the past.
The NFLPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The owners also voted to move the trading deadline from after Week 6 to after Week 8, and to allow one "marquee" player placed on injured reserve to return to practice after the sixth game and to the lineup after the eighth game. That player must be on the 53-man roster after the final preseason cut.
Terrell Suggs, the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, could fall into that category. Suggs recently underwent surgery for a torn Achilles tendon. If the Ravens believe Suggs can make it back in midseason, as the linebacker has predicted, they could use the IR special designation for him.
DaQuan Bowers of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is another possible candidate. Bowers tore his Achilles tendon during team workouts on May 10 and had surgery the next day. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik had said he would put Bowers on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list rather than IR, but this rule change could alter that plan.
The pads rule won't go into effect until next year, so equipment manufacturers can work on safety and comfort.
McKay couldn't see any negatives about adding the thigh and knee pads.
"There's no downside, they have to add some sort of protection," he said. "In our football system, everyone wears them up to our game. Common sense tells you it has to be safer for (protection against) thigh injuries and knee bruises. If players have worn it in Pop Warner, high school and college … from a safety standpoint it is time to put it back in."
Former All-Pro safety Troy Vincent, now an NFL vice president, explained why there could be pushback from the players.
"It's psychological. Less pads you are faster, skinnier, that's just the way I was introduced to the (pro) game," he said. "It's a culture shift. They will adjust."
Should a player not have the pads on when he enters a game, he will be sent off the field by a game official.
"It's the same as if he ran on without a helmet," McKay said. "It is a safety rule."