Paging falconsafety43. Today is your day.
As I’ve been talking about for the past couple of weeks, the NFL was to have a safety summit in early May that looked to address the future of the kickoff. That summit concluded yesterday, and reportedly there is a plan to have changes at the ready for the 2018 season. Changes to the kickoff, not changes such as eliminating the kickoff.
And according to Kevin Seifert, writing for ESPN, the idea is to make the play more like a punt. Which is what one of or more esteemed contributors to the Steelers Depot community has been expounding all offseason whenever the topic has been broached.
The “more of a punt play” description comes directly from Rich McKay, who is the chairman of the competition committee. Another member of the committee, Mark Murphy, warned that the kickoff is still on a short leash, however. Murphy is the same man who warned at the Annual League Meetings that the kickoff’s days are numbered if they couldn’t make it safer.
The owners will gather again later in May to finalize votes on a few loose ends before heading into the 2018 season, and the two most crucial topics on-hand will be exactly what was discussed over the past two days: the kickoff, and the helmet rule, specifically how replay review will factor into it.
The proposals for altering the kickoff including removing the five-yard head start that the kicking team currently has, which was already a scale-back of previous rules. The kicking team must also have a balanced line of five players on either side of the kicker. Even two-man wedge blocks will also be eliminated if the proposal is approved later this month.
Arguably the biggest change would be the requirement that at least eight of the 11 men on the return team would have to line up within 15 yards of the restraining line—and blocking would not be permitted within that zone.
Pre-kick motion altogether would be prohibited as well, but, importantly, there are no plans to significantly alter the kickoff rules in an onside kick situation. In these situations, most of the return team is close to the line of scrimmage anyway. It’s not clear if they would be permitted to have more than five players to a side, however.
I know a number of people really can’t stand any sort of alteration to the game, but I’m honestly pretty intrigued by this proposal to make the kickoff more like a punt, which I believe that have done a solid job of formulating, and which should yield a positive impact in terms of player safety.
It’s important to note that these suggestions were taken in direct cooperation with actually special teams coaches and players, among other personnel. This is a collective effort in which the voices of all—at least to a degree—are being heard. This is a last-ditch effort to save the kickoff. If it fails, elimination is likely the next step.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and prolific return man Antwaan Randle El was a part of the summit as a former player. Danny Smith was not in attendance, though representatives of the Ravens and Bengals were both involved.