Examining the Possibility of an NFL Without Kickoffs

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 03:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addresses the media during a news conference ahead of Superbowl XLVI on February 3, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is toying with the idea of removing kickoffs from the game entirely for the sake of player safety. 

Goodell revealed in a recent interview with Time magazine that he is considering eliminating the kickoff from the NFL thanks to a unique idea first proposed to him by Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano (via Gregg Rosenthal and NFL.com):

"After a touchdown or field goal, instead of kicking off, a team would get the ball on its own 30-yard line, where it's fourth-and-15," TIME's Sean Gregory writes. "The options are either to go for it and try to retain possession or punt. If you go for it and fall short, of course, the opposing team would take over with good field position. In essence, a punt replaces the kickoffs."

The potential move is in direct response to the plethora of serious injuries that have recently plagued the league. Kickoffs allow some of the league's best athletes to sprint downfield at full speed before lowering their head instinctively for the tackle, exposing themselves and others to serious spinal injuries. 

While fans may not clamor for the elimination of kickoffs from the game, it seems like an inevitable move considering the league itself could be facing legal action at some point. The last thing the league or any fan wants to see is another serious injury similar to the one sustained by former Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett in 2007.

It is unknown how much safer punts are than kickoffs, but it has to be a better option in the league's eyes for the NFL to even consider it. There's obviously a chance for injury on punts as well, but removing the high-speed collision on kickoffs would seriously help mitigate the chances of future life-threatening injuries in the league.

Still, a move away from kickoffs would have drastic implications on the game of football as we know it. 

As Gregg Rosenthal writes, "The implications for strategy are even more intriguing. If a team is trailing by more than one score very late in the fourth quarter, they likely would to try to go for it on 4-and-15 instead of punting," as the fourth-down opportunity is the NFL's answer to the possible elimination of the onside kick. 

With ample time each week to prepare for the 4th-and-15 scenario against specific opponents, it is likely some teams will develop packages for the situation and become proficient at converting. And the appeal of continually converting and keeping the other team off the field with a greater success rate is something that will change how every game is played, as teams would seem to have a much better chance to convert a 15-yard down rather than come up with an onside kick recovery. 

Kickoff specialists would no longer exist if the new rule is implemented. However, the importance of punters, gunners, long-snappers and punt-return specialists would absolutely skyrocket. 

With a move to punts only, one would have to think that more teams would be starting inside their own 20-yard line when facing quality punters. Under the current rules, teams can direct a punt out of bounds. If that is allowed on the punts that replace kickoffs, many teams will continually be pinned deep on their own side of the field. 

If this rule change eventually does get implemented, it will be intriguing to see how some of the NFL's greatest minds, such as New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, will approach it with new strategies. 

Eliminating kickoffs from the NFL is likely not going to be a popular idea with a vast majority of NFL fans worldwide, but it will assuredly make the game safer. Where we want to draw the line between safety and the rules of the NFL is blurry at best, but Goodell seems intent on pushing the boundaries in a safe direction. 

We're not close to this type of NFL-altering rule change, but that fact Goodell is openly discussing it means it's at least on the table and up for debate. How it plays out remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure—the NFL could undergo some serious change with Goodell at the helm.