NFL Won’t Eliminate Kickoffs, But Major Changes Could Be Coming

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NFL kickoffs could look drastically different this season.

In an effort to improve the safety of what’s been called the most dangerous play in football, the NFL held a summit of special teams minds Wednesday in New York to discuss ways of tweaking kickoffs without eliminating them entirely.

The committee, which included nearly a third of the league’s current special teams coaches, among others, settled on the following proposal, which will be voted on by NFL owners May 21 to 23.

Via ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert:

— Coverage teams would lose the 5-yard head start they previously had.

— Five players would need to be aligned on each side of the kicker.

— All wedge blocks, including two-man double teams, would be eliminated.

— Eight of the 11 return team members would be lined up within 15 yards of the restraining line, and blocking would be prohibited within those 15 yards.

— There would be no pre-kick motion.

In essence, the proposal would make kickoffs more like punts, limiting the number of head-on collisions between opposing players.

“With the old rule, you had guys running at each other,” Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub told Seifert. “Now, you’ll have guys running with each other down the field. That makes a big difference … because the distance between the two of them are closer. The distance between the front line and the kickoff return team is so tight that when they run down the field, it’s a lot like a punt. They’re running together. You’re pushing people on the side and you don’t have those big collisions. That was the main thing in our proposal.”

Green Bay Packers president/COO Mark Murphy, a member of the NFL’s competition committee, said in March the committee will recommend the elimination of kickoffs if the league cannot find a way to make them safer. The injury rate on kickoffs is five times higher than on an average play, according to the NFL’s research.

Patriots special teamers Matthew Slater and Cordarrelle Patterson both have argued against such a move.

“I think if you take away this play from football, you’re changing the fabric of the game,” Slater said last month. “… To take away the kickoff, I really think it would be tragic.”

In addition to improving safety, the new proposal also could wind up helping kick returners, who have been marginalized in recent years. Removing the kickoff team’s 5-yard head start should create additional space for returners to operate.

Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge was among those present at the summit, per ESPN.

Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images

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