Thompson: Kickoff Changes Make NFL Safer, Less Exciting

By Brad Thompson–

Significant changes to kickoffs might be coming to an NFL stadium near you.

Next week the NFL Competition Committee will propose and vote on rule changes that move kickoffs up to the 35-yard line, and bring touchbacks on kickoffs out to the 25-yard line.

Other changes include not allowing players, except kickers, from lining up more than five yards behind the ball, thus limiting the amount of speed players generate before the ball is kicked. The final proposed rule change to kickoffs would eliminate all wedge blocking by return teams. In 2009, the NFL outlawed wedges of three or more. This new rule would eliminate double team blocking, making all blocks on returns one on one.

Falcons’ President Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee said, “This is a pretty major change.”

Clearly the thought process behind the proposed kickoff rule changes are to limit and prevent concussions. I’m in favor of most rule changes that make the game safer. These changes seem to be a step in the right directions for the NFL, which has faced heavy scrutiny recently regarding concussions.

With the leg strength of kickers improving, there will a drastic increase in touchbacks if the league moves kickoffs to the 35-yard line. And moving the ball out to the 25-yard line on touchbacks gives returners even less incentive to bring a return out of the end zone.

Without question, if passed, these rule changes will take away from the excitement of kickoffs. It will decrease the value of return specialists and players whose main role is on special teams. It could also hurt the development of young players whose only opportunity to make a play is on special teams. Many times young players make a name for themselves by being standouts on special teams, which leads to an opportunity on offense or defense.

On the other hand, limiting the chance of concussions for younger players or special teams players protects the lower paid players in the league who have the most to lose if they get a concussion. If Peyton Manning takes a blow to the head and is diagnosed with a concussion, his career probably isn’t over and even if it is, he has already earned plenty of money. Special teams players are the ones more likely to hide a concussion because they might get released from the team and aren’t as financial stability as a player like Manning.

Although I am in favor of these rule changes, I do have a problem with how hypocritical this makes the NFL look. Right now the league and players association can’t come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. One dividing point is the idea of an 18-game regular season.

How can the league say they are making rule changes to create a safer game and at the same time, try to add games to the season? You know what will make the game safer? Play a 14-game regular season. Reduce the number of hits in games and practice by two games instead of adding two games.

The proposed rule changes might, in the end, lead to a safer game, but it’s hard to believe that the league is really trying to make the game safer when they are vehemently trying to add games to the season.

If the proposed changes are passed, I am going to miss the excitement of Danieal Manning or Devin Hester breaking through the first line of defenders and hitting the open field with a full head of steam with only the opponent’s kicker standing between him and the goal line.

I guess this is just one of the sacrifices we have to make for a safer game.

Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.

brad thompson bio pic Thompson: Kickoff Changes Make NFL Safer, Less Exciting

Brad Thompson

Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.

  • Michael Che

    uuuuugh. What will Mr Washington do? No more 101yds total in a single game? Never?
    They might as well make it ‘safer’ by eliminating the kickoffs entirely. Turnover on downs after 4 tries > the other team starts at own 20.
    What a funny thing. Making something safer by crippling it. A couple of years for this way of thinking to develop, and we will have penalties for tackling. It isn’t safe, ya know…

  • Murphfan1138

    When I started watching the Bears play, kickoffs were at the 35-yard-line, then moved to the 30 to CREATE excitement on kickoffs and reduce the number of touchbacks, and now the NFL is considering this??? Might as well get rid of special teams altogether.

  • Dave Haeffner

    If the rules keep changing the way they have been for the last 10 years football will soon be much like it was when we played at recess in 2nd and 3rd grade. two hand touch will make the player down. I guess if we are going to want to watch a physical sport we will be watching rugby in the future.

  • Thompson: One Rule Change Bears Fans Can Cheer About « CBS Chicago

    […] Call me an optimist, but I’m trying to look at the bright side of the rule changes for the Bears (plus I wrote about the kickoff rule changes last week). […]

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