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, says Tuesday at an owners meeting that because this is a playing rule, the league can implement it unilaterally.
The owners also voted to move the training 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.
The pads rule won't go into effect until 2013 so equipment manufacturers can work on safety and comfort.