NFL owners approve radical change to kickoff rules, adopting setups used in XFL

NFL owners approve radical change to kickoff rules, adopting setups used in XFL
NFL owners approve radical change to kickoff rules, adopting setups used in XFL

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Kickoff returns are back in the NFL.

Team owners on Tuesday approved a new rule that will take what has essentially become a «dead play» and make it an integral part of the game again.

«We feel like this is a great day for the NFL,» said Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, who was heavily involved in creating the framework for the new hybrid kickoff.

The special teams overhaul — which has been in the works for years — takes elements of the kickoff rules used in the XFL and modifies them for use in the NFL starting in 2024. The rule will be in effect for one season on a trial basis and then subject to renewal in 2025.

NFL Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay said the new rule passed in a 29-3 vote.

«There was a little fear of the unknown,» McKay said. “I think the optics are definitely the most drastic (rule change) we’ve seen. The thing that gives us total comfort is that we have the tape, we’ve seen it. We can show you the plays and you can see how this might play out.

McKay said it was urgent to vote on this rule before the draft because it could affect how teams structure rosters. Had 1,970 kickoff return touchdowns last season, which may now be returns. There were 92 fair catches last season that are no longer allowed. Any ball caught in the field of play must be returned.

«The value of the returning starters is going to skyrocket,» Cowboys special teams coach John Fassel said.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he expects the league will have to address the rule in the future, but he sees it as a «major improvement.»

«I think it’s going to bring the game back to being a relevant game, an important game, an exciting game, and I think we can do it where the injury rate will go down,» Goodell said.

For a standard kickoff, the ball will be kicked from the 35-yard line with the 10 punt returners lined up at the opposing 40, with five on each side of the field.

The return team will have at least nine blockers lined up in the «setup zone» between the 30- and 35-yard lines, with at least seven of those players touching the 35. There will be up to two returners inside the 20.

Only the kicker and two returners will be allowed to move until the ball hits the ground or is touched by a returner inside the 20.

Any punt that reaches the end zone in the air can be returned, or the receiving team can elect a touchback and possession at the 30. Any punt that reaches the end zone in the air and goes out of bounds or out of the end zone would also result in a touchback at the 30 .

If a ball hits a returner or the ground before the end zone and goes into the end zone, the touchback will be at the 20 or the play may be returned.

«It’s a drastic move that will be very different,» said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, a former special teams coordinator. “Is this the right move at this point? I do not know. I think that needs to be determined.”

Under current rules, any touchback — or if a returner calls a fair catch in the field of play — results in the receiving team receiving the ball at its own 25.

The motion needed 24 of 32 votes to pass.

«I’m all for it,» Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You have 2,000 dead plays. Nobody wants to see that. It will add excitement and novelty.”

In other rule changes, owners voted to make two instant replay settings. Replay can now be used to check if the play clock expired before the snap, and can also correct an apparent error where a passer was taken out of contact or out of bounds before throwing the ball.

These plays were previously declared dead on the spot, but can now be changed with clear evidence. If the pass is caught or intercepted, he will be down at that spot with no progress. If the pass was incomplete, that would stay.

There were several other changes, including allowing playoff teams to have unlimited returns from injured reserve if they missed four games. Teams can also place up to two players on the IR, physically unable to perform list or non-football injury list before reducing the roster to 53 players and they are still eligible to return.

Owners also voted to move the trade deadline back one week to Tuesday after the end of Week 9 and will allow the team to elevate a «bona fide» quarterback from the practice squad an unlimited number of times to be an emergency third quarterback.

SILVER AND BRADY

Tom Brady’s offer to buy a stake in the Las Vegas Raiders remains frozen.

Owners did not vote on whether to approve Brady’s potential ownership stake during league meetings this week. There are concerns that Raiders owner Mark Davis is discounting the price for Brady.

«I wouldn’t say it’s a delay,» Goodell said. «We are going through a thorough process. … I think there is progress.”

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AP Pro Football writers Mark Long and Josh Dubow contributed to this report.

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