The NFL has a few new rules for next season, assuming they actually have a season.
The changes are a result of this week’s owners meetings, which included 32 coaches who attended to consult with the NFL’s Competition Committee about changes in kickoff and replay rules.
Here are all the changes and their implications:
Kickoffs will now be from the 35-yard line instead of the 30-yard line.
Ah, the touchback. It’s the least exciting play in football, and there’s going to be plenty more next year. The 5-yard move of the kickoff spot is sure to result in more kicks flying into (and through) the endzone, lowering the impact of kick return men. The rule change is particularly devastating for specialists like Devin Hester and the NFL’s record-holder for kick return touchdowns Josh Cribbs, and they’ve both lashed out in response.
For some perspective, Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff tied former Minnesota Vikings kicker Mitch Berger’s NFL single-season record for touchbacks last year with 40. Cundiff averaged more than 71 yards per kickoff, which means he’s now likely to boot the ball six yards into the endzone more often than not.
Kickoff coverage teams will only get 5 yards of run-up before the kick instead of 15 yards.
The shorter run-up makes it harder for the kicking team to cover kicks, which gives them an incentive to avoid kick returns whenever possible. The answer for coverage teams, just like before, is to use a big leg to fire the ball into the endzone. But now it’s much easier to find those kickers. 16 players with 40 attempts or more averaged over 65 yards per kickoff last year, and all of those kicks would wind up in the endzone next year. Only Cundiff averaged the 70 yards required to reach the endzone from the 30-yard line.
The two-man wedge will still be allowed (three or more in the wedge is still prohibited), and touchbacks will still be placed at the 20 yard line.
Large wedges were taken out of the NFL in 2009 due to injury concerns, and despite the Competition Committee’s proposal to eliminate what was left of the wedge tactic, the coaches managed to talk them out of taking the two-man away. The ball placement after a touchback is staying the same too, even though the original proposal had used a 25-yard line starting spot to help offset the movement of the kickoff spot. Again, more touchback incentives.
An instant replay review by the booth official will now be automatic for every play ruled by the referees on the field to have scored points.
Here’s another step in the “modernization” of sports. Every scoring play will be reviewed now, which saves coaches from using up their challenges on close plays in the endzone. Fortunately, there’s already a decent gap between a touchdown and an extra point, so unless it’s a play that a coach was going to challenge anyway it shouldn’t impact the speed of the already stoppage-stuffed games. Even if the proceedings take a little longer, they’ll be getting every scoring play right.
So we’ll have more definite referee accuracy, but will we be saying goodbye to the electrifying kickoff returns that Hester, Cribbs and others have graced us with over the years? Maybe, but if coaches keep the collars loose on their return men, there’s still fun to be had. Like Cribbs said on Twitter, “35yd line won’t stop me just another obstacle 4 me to het over, just gotta be the voice 4 those who don’t have one, I don’t mind 105yd td’s.”
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