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 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.