NFL passes new rule that could drastically affect kickoffs


6 Rings Coach's Corner with Dante Scarnecchia, Ivan Fears and Ernie Adams

The NFL has been on a run of late passing new rules for the upcoming 2023 season. Some seem to have been met with approval, like the third QB not counting against the active gameday roster rule. Others, like allowing Thursday Night Football games to be flexed out Weeks 13-17 this season? Not so popular with players and fans alike. And as for the rule that just passed Tuesday morning? Add this one to the unpopular pile, especially in New England.

Starting this season, not only will touchbacks on kickoffs be brought out to the 25-yard line, but so will kickoffs that are fair caught short of the endzone. The change essentially eliminates the strategy of trying to kick short of the endzone in order to force a return.

The NFL says it’s adopting the change citing higher concussion rates on returned kicks, which may make for a noble effort if the data is there in mitigating concussions in a violent contact sport. However, football is a contact sport, and fans and players alike enjoy kickoffs, which will now be deterred to a greater extent (NFL modeling says kickoffs should go down by only seven percent).

Player safety improvement is important, make no mistake. But you have to give the people what they want. And fans and players and former players and special teams coordinators and just about everyone with a voice does not like the change, even if it’s only on a one-year trial.

One can imagine the New England Patriots will be unhappy with this rule change considering the investment the team made to shore up their special teams this offseason, from re-signing Matthew Slater to bringing on linebacker/special teams specialist Chris Board to the draft, where special teams strength and depth was an emphasis through all seven rounds.

While kickoffs will still get returned, and defended, this definitely shakes up the way teams will go about preparing and lining up for special teams duties. Whether or not this rule change would have affected the way the Pats drafted and went about their offseason is a moot point now. Though it feels like a safe bet that all 32 teams would have rather known about this before free agency and the draft for sure.

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