April 21, 2024

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NFL owners are considering changing kickoffs and banning hip-drop tackles

NFL owners are considering changing kickoffs and banning hip-drop tackles

The NFL's competition commission on Wednesday proposed a revamped start similar to the alignment used in the XFL during the 2020 and 2023 seasons, one of a series of notable changes owners will consider next week at their annual league meeting.

The commission also offered a rule prohibiting the hip drop approach.

The kickoff proposal would be the most significant change to the NFL's field rules in years, designed to reverse more than a decade of declining return rates while also lowering concussion rates. In essence, the commission's proposal would move the majority of kicking and returning teams onto the field to reduce high-speed collisions. If approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners, the rule will be in effect for only one year.

The kicker will continue to kick from the 35-yard line, but the other 10 players will line up at the receiving team's 40-yard line. At least nine members of the return team will line up in the “setup zone” between the 35 and 30 yard lines. Up to two returners can line up in the “landing zone” between the goal line and the 20-yard line. No one other than the kicker and the rebounding players can move until the ball hits the ground or a player inside the landing zone. Touchpoints will be marked on the 35-yard line, and no fair catches will be allowed.

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If a team wishes to take an onside kick, it will have to inform officials of its intent and will then be allowed to use the traditional NFL formation. No sudden kicks will be allowed.

The proposal follows the structure and philosophy of the XFL version with a slight shift in where players will line up. In the XFL, they line up farther, between the 30 and 35 yard lines of the returning team. Over 90% of kickoffs were returned during both XFL seasons.

The reason for the proposed changes is clear. In its effort to reduce kickoff concussions, the NFL over the past 15 seasons has implemented rule changes designed to reduce returns. It moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line, banned wedge and double blocks, and in 2023 created a rule allowing fair catches to be spotted at the 25-yard line.

Concussion rates increased dramatically during that period and the return rate fell to a record 21.7% in 2023. The number of concussions also declined, but only in parallel with the decline in concussions. According to league officials, the rate of concussions per kickoff has remained relatively constant.

It is unclear how owners will react to the changes. When the XFL and USFL merged this season, the resulting UFL ignored the XFL version and chose to use the traditional NFL kickoff alignment.

Meanwhile, the committee's attempt to eliminate slam tackles — a dangerous technique that often results in lower-body injuries — requires officials to observe two actions: if the defender “grabs the runner with both hands or wraps the runner with both arms.” “, according to the wording of the proposal and also “relieves his or her own weight by rotating and dropping his or her hips and/or lower body, landing on the runner's leg(s) and trapping them at or below the knee.”

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The committee's proposals came one week after teams submitted a series of rule change requests of their own.

Other committee proposals included:

  • Adds two states to the list of reviewable plays: whether the passer was out of bounds or down by contact before the snap, and whether the game clock expired before the snap.

  • To expand the rule against blocking to include players “who move and move out of position to obstruct a defender at or below the knee,” according to the proposal.

  • To allow teams to use their practice squad quarterback as the No. 3 quarterback in emergency situations. Currently, this quarterback should be part of the 53-man roster.