With the list of ex-players lining up to sue the league over its handling of concussions growing longer by the day, the NFL is looking at any and all avenues in their quest to make the game safer for the men who take the field every autumn Sunday for our enjoyment.
Speaking with Michael Eisen from his club's official website, New York Giants co-owner John Mara was asked his feelings regarding player safety in general and kickoffs in particular. Mara went so far as to intimate that NFL kickoffs may not be not long for this world:
We had a lot of discussions about whether we should eliminate it and if we did what we could do in its place...There's no consensus on it right now, but I could see the day in the future where that play could be taken out of the game.
You see it evolving toward that. Nobody would go that far now, but we talk about different blocks that we can outlaw. The problem is that the concussions come from everywhere, from the wedge, from the crossing blocks where a guy goes from one side of the field to another, from a full speed collision between a return guy and a tackler. So there's no one thing that you can do. It's something that we'll continue to watch as closely as possible.
As chairman of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee, Mara was instrumental in negotiating the new collective bargaining agreement which gives players a great deal more time away from football during the offseason and much more practice time out of pads during the season. The logic was that it would help elongate careers due to less wear and tear on players' bodies.
Mara is also a member of the Competition Committee which oversaw the rules change made last year, placing kickoffs at the 35-yard line instead of the 30.
According to Mara:
One thing we did determine is that by moving the kickoff to the 35 yard-line, it reduced the number of returns but reduced the number of concussions by 40 percent...So I don't think you'll see that rule change. The kickoff is by far the most dangerous play that we have in our game. The hits are pretty violent and they come from all different directions. There are guys running full speed, that's the problem. That's why we put the rule in. It shortens the field a little bit and it cuts down the number of returns.
There is little doubt in my mind that the NFL will move to remove the kickoff play entirely sometime within the next two or three years. As Mara suggests, it is an incredibly dangerous play.
Eliminating it would be a sign, if even a cosmetic one, that the NFL is serious when it talks about its renewed commitment to player safety.