If players were allowed to vote on this year’s most radical NFL rule proposal, Jason McCourty would be among the “nays.”
The New England Patriots cornerback explained Wednesday why he’s against the league offering a fourth-and-15 conversion attempt from the scoring team’s own 25-yard line as an alternative to an onside kick — a proposed rule change that owners will vote on this week.
“From a competitive side, especially as a defensive back, you don’t mind that pressure — fourth-and-15 or whatever the down and distance is,” McCourty said in a video call with reporters. “All right, we have to show up to win the game.
“But if I’m a team and I’ve earned the right to be up, we’ve made the plays necessary to be winning in the fourth quarter or whatever it might be, I have a chance to go seal the game by just catching an onside kick versus be out there for a fourth-and-15 — from that standpoint, I don’t really understand it. We’re now basically rewarding you for being behind.”
The aim of this proposal is to increase late-game drama by phasing out a play that has become overwhelmingly uncompetitive in recent years.
Since the NFL altered its kickoff format in 2018 — removing coverage players’ running start and preventing kickoff teams from overloading one side of the ball — the rate of successful onside kick recoveries has plummeted. After recovering 21 percent of their own onside kicks through the 2017 season, teams recovered just 7.7 percent in 2018 and 12.9 percent in 2019.
McCourty acknowledged the proposed format would be more entertaining for viewers — and said the Patriots will spend much more time practicing fourth-and-15 scenarios if the rule passes.
“We’re in the entertainment business,” he said, “and onside kick versus a fourth-and-15, (the latter) is a lot more intriguing. So we have no control over it. If they vote ‘yes,’ we’ll be out there preparing situationally how to stop fourth-and-15s with the game on the line.”
The rule proposal underwent a few tweaks Wednesday, the most notable of which stipulated the clock would not run on fourth-and-15 attempts. They would be untimed downs, meaning a team could score with one second remaining, convert the fourth down and still have time left on the clock to run one additional play.
Both teams would be eligible to attempt a fourth-and-15 after any touchdown or field goal in regulation — not in overtime — but each would be limited to two such attempts per game.
Clubs received updated language on the proposed onside kick alternative that (as @AlbertBreer noted) clarifies it can only be used in regulation, not overtime, and is an untimed down. Also note the language on post-score penalties. Virtual meeting tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/NWrbrazEuz
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 27, 2020