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The NFL is looking to change kickoff rules again

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By: Justis Mosqueda

Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The league is going to implement the XFL’s kickoff rules…sort of.

On Sunday, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that the league is looking into alternative options for the league’s ever-changing approach to kickoffs. Pelissero noted that one wrinkle in the new set of rule changes, which were created by special teams coordinators around the league, includes teams only being able to go for onside kicks when they’re trailing in the fourth quarter. Per Pelissero, teams would have to “declare it in advance,” meaning that all elements of a surprise onside kick would be eliminated.

The MMQB’s Albert Breer expanded on Pelissero’s reporting shortly after, adding more context to potential changes. Per Breer, the new setup for the traditional kickoff attempt (the non-onside declarations) would make it so that neither the kickoff team nor the return team could move from their setup until the ball is touched by a kickoff returner. If the ball is kicked off into the end zone, it would come back to the 35-yard-line, rather than the traditional touchback spot. If the ball rolls into the end zone, though, it would come back to the 20-yard line.

The thought of this is to incentivize kickoff returns, obviously, as it both penalizes kickoff and kickoff return teams for allowing a ball to turn into a touchback. If you’re wondering how this works out, it’s a very similar play to the kickoff return setup that the XFL implemented in 2020. You can find a video of an example play linked below.

Per Breer, the concept for the exact wrinkles on the XFL setup were created by Darren Rizzi, who was once offered the Green Bay Packers’ special teams coordinator job by Matt LaFleur, and John Fassel — the coordinators for the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. They, along with Chicago Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower, ran the presentation for the competition committee.

Sam Schwartzstein, who now works with Amazon’s Thursday Night Football broadcast, was the originator of the XFL’s special team rules in 2020. He took to Twitter/X, following the reports, to explain his concerns about the proposed kickoff’s starting point. Back in the XFL, the ball was placed at the 30-yard-line for the kicker. Under the new system, it would be placed at the 40-yard line. According to Schwartzstein, his team tested the kickoff at multiple starting points and moving the ball up further than the 30-yard line “leaves not enough hang time for the returner.”

CBS Sports reporter Jonathan Jones also reported on Sunday that “more people than not believed this rule proposal would ultimately be approved by at least 24 team owners,” the necessary amount of votes it will take to make this kickoff a reality in 2024. It appears that keeping the kickoff, making it a safer play and making it a more significant play than it is currently are all goals of the NFL moving forward. These possible rule changes should all be looked at as a step in that direction.

Originally posted on ACME Packing Company