After tweaking different kickoff rules, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is considering a new rule that would basically eliminate that part of the game altogether.
This radical idea was presented by Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano (via ESPN):
A team, instead of kicking off, would get the ball at its own 30-yard line in a fourth-and-15 situation. The team then would punt the ball away or, to replace an onside kick, could go for it and, if it failed to get a first down, the opposing squad would start with great field position.
The thought process is that this is much safer than kickoffs, where most head injuries take place. However, this change is simply too radical.
It is important to look out for player safety, but you do not want to start making unnecessary changes to rules that could alienate fans and team personnel alike.
In the new system, organizations would have to make dramatic changes that include putting more emphasis on punters and less emphasis on kickers, special-team specialists and skilled returners. The entire roster could look different.
Punter Thomas Morstead of the New Orleans Saints is on pace to set an NFL record with a net average of 44.8 yards. Someone like him would be in for a huge pay raise.
On the other hand, Darius Reynaud of the Tennessee Titans would be out of a job. He is one of the best kick returners in the game, but there is no reason to keep him on a roster just to return punts.
Heading into last season, the league made a change that moved the kickoff starting point from the 30- to the 35-yard line. This small move made a dramatic difference, as it produced more than twice as many touchbacks.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, the players returned only 53.5 percent of kicks in 2011, compared to 80.1 percent in 2010.
This change eliminated one of the more exciting plays in football, but it also reduced the number of concussions, which was the desired effect.
If there is this much of an impact from such a small modification of the rules, imagine what would happen if a major change like eliminating kickoffs was made.
Devin Hester is one of the best kick returners in NFL history, so he obviously has a vested interest in this proposed change. Unsurprisingly, he does not approve. He told Chris Jones of ESPN the Magazine, "They might as well just give us a flag and a T-shirt. They're taking away some of the best plays of the game."
Should the NFL eliminate kickoffs?
This is the sentiment that is widely shared by many fans. You simply can't make a transformation of this magnitude without backlash from everyone involved.
Players can be taught how to play the game more safely. Defensive backs are slowly getting the message that they can't lead with their helmet when tackling a defenseless receiver.
In order for special-team players to avoid injuries, they need to keep their heads up and have an increased awareness of everyone around them. This is something that can be taught at the youngest levels and learned in practice.
New York Giants special-teams player Spencer Paysinger agrees that kickoffs can remain with smarter changes, according to Jeffri Chadiha of ESPN.com:
A lot of people think kickoffs are more violent than they actually are. They can be brutal, but there also have been a lot of things done to improve safety. Even if you just teach different techniques—which is happening—it helps a lot.
Like anything else on the football field and in life, things are more dangerous when you are doing them wrong.
No one is against player safety. However, this rule seems unnecessary. It would solve some problems but cause others.
The NFL is the most popular league in the United States, but it is in a dangerous position. The sport that people fell in love with is changing every day.
This might be the final change that forces people away altogether.