The National Football League’s 32 owners voted Tuesday to move kickoffs up five yards to the 35 yard line. Meanwhile, touchbacks will be kept at the 20 yard line. All of the league’s prominent kick returners have voiced their displeasure about the move.
This new rule change has also stirred the emotions of organizations that have invested millions of dollars into game changing athletes in the return game.
However, contrary to popular belief, this rule change does not alter the overall landscape of the game.
Even the thought that many have tossed out about the “new change” and suggesting to just “start the game at the 20 yard line with the offense” is absurd.
Granted, these subtle changes that the NFL has moved forward with are intended to eliminate the bone-jarring hits, as everyone grows more and more conscious of player safety.
Many call the kickoff one of the most exciting plays in sports, but that belief will not change just because the ball is moved up five yards.
Since when do kickers get so much credit?
Normally, fans hope their team’s kicker does not choke in a clutch situation. Yet, fans are left with their heart in their gut more often then not.
Suddenly, kickers are becoming more important to the NFL than skilled, speedy, elusive “game-changers”, all due to a five yard rule change.
Perhaps more teams will fork over money like the Oakland Raiders did last offseason Sebastian Janikowski. Raiders owner Al Davis extended Janikowski’s contract to four years and $16 million over that period.
To date, Janikowski’s contract is the richest deal for any kicker in NFL history, but who’s to say that will not change?
However, with the new rule change set in stone, special teams coordinators and team general managers will be looking for kickers with a heavy boot.
If these dynamic kick returners believe the game will be changed and all kickoffs will be touchbacks, they are clearly mistaken.
Sure, if teams are equipped with a place kicker who can kick the ball out of the stadium, they will use that to their advantage. In other cases, kickoffs will be strategically schemed and placed inside the five yard line and the end zone.
At that point, it is on the return team and star-studded return specialists to prove their worth. Right now, all Devin Hester, Josh Cribbs, and Brad Smith can do about this dilemma is shake their collective heads and share their disgust with anyone who has ears.
Until the season begins, if there is a season at all, no one knows to what extent this rule change will affect the overall product of football. Kickers could go from a neglected role player to fan favorite with routine touchbacks.
But let’s be real; each and every play in the game of football is crucial. Obviously, a rule change will impact the game early on, but just like any other change in the past, it will become routine and second nature once the playoffs begin and the season unfolds.
Like any other aspect of the game, coaches will find a certain scheme to best utilize their talent. If your team has a “primetime” return specialist, don’t think his money will be wasted with this rule change.
Chicago Bears fans are wondering how return specialist Devin Hester will live up to his $40 million contract through 2013. It's pretty simple.
After all, there are still punt returns.