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The NFL may be punting on kickoffs.

No facet of the game has been altered and tinkered with more than kickoffs, with bans to blocking, running starts, fair catch rules and more over the years. Now, we could be one step closer to the extinction of the kickoff as a whole.

During the NFL’s spring meetings, owners voted to tweak the rules again for the 2023 season, allowing for players to fair catch the ball and place it at the 25-yard line, a massive advantage for the receiving teams. It’s the latest in a string of changes made to kickoffs, and it might signal the beginning of the end for the play.

The league is looking to make big strides at this year’s spring meetings. Already, the NFL made a pretty big change to the way that teams roster QBs with a new emergency quarterback rule. (Don’t worry, Eagles fans, the two-cheek sneak is safe.)

MORE: Why Tom Brady wants to buy a stake in the Raiders

Here’s what to know about the updated kickoff rule.

New NFL kickoff rule for 2023

NFL owners approved a new proposal that will place the ball at the 25-yard line on kickoffs and kicks following a safety if a player calls for a fair catch behind the 25-yard line.

It’s important to note that the rule is officially changed only for 2023, as it says so two separate times in the rule proposal. That means it’s likely something of an experimental rule to see how the league responds

From the proposal (bolded is the new rule):

ARTICLE 4. PUTTING BALL IN PLAY AFTER FAIR CATCH.

After a fair catch is made, or is awarded as the result of fair-catch interference, the receiving team has the option of putting the ball in play by either a:

(a) fair-catch kick (drop kick or placekick without a tee) from the spot of the catch (or the succeeding spot after enforcement of any applicable penalties or rule) (3-10 and 11-4-3), or

(b) snap from the spot of the catch (or the succeeding spot after enforcement of any applicable penalties), unless a player on the receiving team makes a fair catch of a free kick behind the receiving team’s 25-yard line, in which case the ball will be put in play at the receiving team’s 25-yard line.

The new rule mirrors that of college football, which implemented the measure in 2018.

Why the NFL changed the kickoff rule

The NFL says the rule is being changed in order to protect players. 

“At the end of the day health and safety drives this,” NFL competition committee member Rich McKay told media on Tuesday. “The concussion rate has trended up in a pretty dramatic fashion.”

The NFL says that projections suggest that concussions on the play should drop 15 percent with the ball being spotted at the 25-yard line. 

Kickoffs contain the highest rate of concussions of any play on the field.

MORE: New emergency QB rule — What to know for ‘phantom’ QB on game day

Interestingly (and maybe unsurprisingly), coaches and players are vehemently against the rule change, with those on the field reportedly “unanimously” disagreeing with the change.

“For the first time I can ever remember, you have coaches and players unanimously agreeing against a rule, and it is being completely ignored,” one coach said, via the New York Daily News. “And they’re making a rule with no one in the room to actually speak for the game: coaches, GMs. Anybody.”

Coaches and players aren’t buying that the playoffs are any more or less harmful than an average play. In 2022, 19 players suffered concussions during kickoffs. Of those 19 concussions only one happened to a returner: Packers DB Keisean Nixon suffered a concussion in Week 18.

Nixon, incidentally, was among those who had thoughts on the rule change.

NFL players and coaches may believe that different kickoffs made only add to the danger of the play: Maybe higher-arcing kicks will increase speed and massive collisions at the ball, while squib kicks add to the chaos of the play.

Still, the NFL isn’t satisfied with the inherent danger of the play — and that could mean that kickoffs will be booted in short order.

“You know we have different viewpoints in the league, but the data is very clear,” commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters. “There will be a lot of work that needs to be done” to keep the kickoff in the game. 



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