EAGAN, Minn. – NFL special teams guidelines continue to change.
On Tuesday, NFL team owners approved a proposal that will allow teams that perform fair kickoffs and safety kicks behind the 25-yard line to spot the ball at the 25-yard line.
The rule will go into effect for one season on a trial basis.
League officials said kickoffs generate the highest rate of concussions each year. Overhead kicks inside the 5-yard line were of particular concern in their cinematic study of injury incidence.
“We can’t sit idly by,” said Jeff Miller, NFL executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy. “To sit still and continue to do nothing was unacceptable. And I think that’s where the members spoke on that.
Miller and NFL Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay declined to provide exact data on concussion incidences in recent years, noting only that concussions during kickoffs were much higher than concussions. other games in their reports.
Nineteen players suffered concussions in 2022, compared to 14 in 2021 and 10 in 2020, according to data obtained and reported by Sports Illustrated. Those 19 concussions occurred out of approximately 2,700 kickoffs, meaning 99.3% of kickoff plays were concussion-free.
Special teams coaches across the league presented this data as they strongly opposed and rallied against the rule. Some felt that the confusion resulting from the rule change posed a greater health risk than that which currently affects 0.7% of games.
Procedural questions and challenges remain, a special teams coordinator told Yahoo Sports.
“And if the ball is kicked from 50 after a penalty… does a good catch still put the ball at 25?” the coach wondered in a text message. “Or if the ball is kicked from 20 after a penalty or a safety? What happens if the ball is missed (rare but will happen)? Small things, but definitely some things we need to fix to clean it up! »
Team owners passed the decision anyway, voting in their privileged session. A dispute is to be expected, McKay said.
“We tend to put ourselves in the right place,” he said of the safety-related rule changes, “but it’s never that comfortable.”
What is the probability that the launch rule will become permanent?
NFL team owners have not approved this rule indefinitely.
In a year, they will re-evaluate if they should continue to implement this 25-yard line spot. The decision will take into account health and safety considerations, as well as the quality of the competition.
Are kick-off injuries decreasing? How often does this rule cause teams to return kicks inside the 25 compared to the return frequency last year?
League modeling predicts a reduction in returns on 38% kickoffs to 31%. Concussion rates at kickoffs, they predict, will drop by 15%.
Altering kick-off formats to reduce the space between teams, and therefore likely the defending team’s chase speed, remains a possibility in the near future. McKay and the competition committee wonder: if kickoffs are only returned 38% of the time right now, is there an alternative format that would invite returns on more than 60% of kickoffs? ? If so, would that excite fans even more?
“If we can make it a more competitive game over a game that becomes more ceremonial, we should always do that,” McKay said.
Miller added, “You want to make sure the game is always exciting and relevant.”
Eliminating kickoffs altogether isn’t the committee’s current preference, but that hasn’t been ruled out either.
“We want to keep him in the game,” McKay said. “I don’t know that we know we can keep him in the game. But we want to keep him in the game.”
Special teams coaches will keep their eyes peeled for their input.
“I have to adapt quickly,” the coordinator said, “and change over time.”