Under a rule-change proposal submitted by the Denver Broncos, NFL teams will give consideration this offseason to an alternative to the onside kick. The proposal would give a team the option, a maximum of once per game during the fourth quarter only, of bypassing a kickoff in favor of attempting to retain possession by converting what would amount to a fourth-and-15 play from its own 35-yard line.
The change would not eliminate the kickoff or the onside kick. It merely would give a team trailing late in a game an alternative to a task that became next to impossible this past season with the league’s new safety-related rules for kickoffs in place.
The Broncos’ proposal would need to be ratified by at least 24 of the 32 NFL teams to take effect next season. Owners, coaches and general managers are scheduled to gather later this month in Phoenix at the annual league meeting.
It is not clear if the NFL competition committee will take a formal position on the Broncos’ proposal. Rule-change proposals submitted by individual teams without an endorsement by the committee generally are regarded as long shots to be ratified.
The successful onside kick essentially has been taken out of the game by the new kickoff rules. Only four were recovered by the kicking team this past season.
A variation of the Broncos’ fourth-and-15 idea has been contemplated for several years as a prospective future alternative to the kickoff. Under that version, there would be no kickoffs at all. After a score, a team would face a fourth-and-15 play from its 35-yard line, and could either punt the ball away to its opponent or try for a first down. The Broncos’ current proposal does not include the possibility of punting the ball away.
The safety rules that were put in place for this past season were designed to prevent the kickoff from being eliminated entirely, and they seem to have worked. League medical officials announced at the NFL scouting combine that the rate of concussions suffered by players on kickoffs was down 35 percent from the 2017 season. As a result, the kickoff no longer is football’s most dangerous play, according to the league. That distinction now belongs to the punt, both in terms of concussion and overall injury rates.
The new kickoff rules included barring players on the kicking team from getting a running start before the ball is kicked, creating a no-blocking buffer zone between the two teams and eliminating all forms of “wedge” blocking by two or more players on the returning team.
Under the Broncos’ proposal, the kicking team would notify the referee of its intention, and the referee would inform the opposing team. The “kicking” team would retain possession of the ball by gaining 15 yards on its one play; otherwise the other team would take possession at the spot at which the play ends. The “kicking” team could not change course after a penalty. It would be obligated to try for a first down on fourth and 25 after being assessed a 10-yard holding penalty on its initial try, for instance.
The league on Friday announced the rule-change proposals made by individual teams.
The Kansas City Chiefs are proposing that each team be guaranteed at least one possession in overtime, that overtime be eliminated in preseason games and that the coin toss before overtime be eliminated, with the option going to the team that won the opening toss.
The Chiefs lost to the New England Patriots in overtime in the AFC championship game and never had the ball thanks to the Patriots scoring a game-winning touchdown on the opening possession of the extra frame. Under the league’s current overtime rules, each team gets at least one possession unless the team with the opening possession scores a touchdown.
Most of theproposals submitted by individual teams are related to expanding the use of instant replay as an officiating tool.
The Washington Redskins are proposing to make all plays subject to potential replay review under the coaches’ challenge system. That proposal has been made in the past by Patriots Coach Bill Belichick.
The Redskins separately are proposing to make personal fouls reviewable by replay. The Chiefs are proposing to make personal fouls — those not called as well as those called — reviewable. Four teams are proposing to make player-safety fouls, both called and uncalled, subject to review.
The Philadelphia Eagles are proposing to have would-be scoring plays and turnovers that are negated by a penalty automatically reviewed, as scoring plays and turnovers currently are. The Broncos are proposing to have all failed fourth-down attempts spotted short of the line of gain or the goal line automatically reviewed. They also are proposing to have all extra points and two-point conversions automatically reviewed.
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said at the combine that the league is studying the possibility of adding a “sky judge,” or video official, to each officiating crew. That on-site video official would be stationed in front of a replay monitor in the press box and would be empowered to overturn obvious mistakes. Vincent said the competition committee was studying the details of how such a system would work, including what calls the sky judge could scrutinize and at what points in a game such reversals could be made.
The renewed emphasis on studying the possible expansion of replay as an officiating tool comes after the furor over the missed pass interference call late in regulation in the NFC title game that sent the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl rather than the New Orleans Saints.
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