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NFL weighing huge kickoff changes, hip drop tackle ban

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By: Dave Choate

Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Searching for safety and looking to juice kickoffs, the NFL is tinkering again.

The league loves to tinker with its rules. Sometimes that’s a positive and sometimes we hate these rule changes but grow used to them. Sometimes those rule changes make the game worse, especially when an extended tantrum by the Sean Payton-era Saints helps to create them.

Time will tell on the latest proposals, should they pass, but there’s little denying that they will change the fabric of the NFL in striking ways. That’s because the NFL is trying to do nothing less than erase a type of tackle from the league while completely altering the way teams do kickoffs, among other proposed changes.

Hip drop to be dropped?

We’ll start with the tackling piece.

I am not someone who talks out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to player safety; if something is genuinely going to make the game much safer for the players who put their short-term and long-term health on the line for our entertainment, then let’s do it. I do want the league to really know whether a change will do that, and consider the downstream ramifications of the change before making it.

That’s where we’re at with the hip drop tackle. The league wants to use 15 yard penalties and post-game fines to effectively litigate what the league is calling a “swivel hip-drop tackle” out of the game, with league officials and Falcons executive/competition committee member Rich McKay citing league data that shows a much higher injury rate.

The problem from the players’ perspective? Those are subjective calls, especially in the moment, and asking defenders to make conscious decisions with their tackling form and choices may lead to injuries for those defenders. The NFL Players’ Association released a statement pointing out that the NFL has admitted they were having trouble defining the hip-drop tackle they wanted to ban, and given the league’s deeply shoddy officiating record, there’s concern it will end up being just another way the league makes life difficult for defenses.

My fear is that we’ll end up in a similar situation to the patently ludicrous roughing the passer alterations that made one whole season a slog before the NFL decided to kill the rule. We’ll see if the league adopts it, but their deeply uneven record with actually improving player safety and enforcing rule changes properly makes me skeptical it’ll go well if they do.

Kickoff changes

The league is mulling a change to the kickoff rules that is very clearly inspired by the XFL, one with a stated hope of lessening concussions and encouraging more returns. It would involve changing spacing for the kicking and return teams, eliminate fair catches as an option, and penalize touchbacks by giving returning teams the ball at the 35 yard line. This is intended to reverse the slow decline in kickoffs from years of rule changes designed to…well, reduce the number of kickoffs. Sometimes you need rules to reverse the rules that worked well, but perhaps not in the way you intended.

Whether this works as intended remains to be seen, but it ‘s worth noting that fairly similar rules in the XFL resulted in frequent kickoff returns. The Falcons have Avery Williams and signed Ray-Ray McCloud, so they certainly have established, quality returners to take advantage of any rule changes.

For a rundown of more suggested rule changes, you can read this article. How do you feel about the two proposals outlined above?

Originally posted on The Falcoholic – All Posts