The NFL has gone ahead with changes to the NFL Kickoff despite the changes being vehemently opposed by players and coaches.
The NFL made a significant rule change that will come into effect during the 2023 season. Starting next season, any fair catch inside a team’s own 25-yard line on a kickoff or safety kick will automatically result in the ball being placed at the 25-yard line. This rule change, aimed at player safety, was met with mixed reactions.
For Now, It’s a One Year Rule
Despite unanimous opposition from special teams coordinators, the rule change was approved by the NFL. The new rule eliminates much of the incentive for teams to return kickoffs since they can now opt for a fair catch and start their offensive drive from the 25-yard line. Special teams coordinators expressed their concern about the impact this change will have on the strategy and excitement of the game.
The NFL emphasized that this rule change is for a one-year trial period and will be re-evaluated afterward. The league cited the NCAA’s kickoff rules as a template for this change. However, several players and analysts expressed skepticism about the long-term implications of this decision.
Former and Current Players Sound-off
Panthers punter Johnny Hekker took to social media to voice his concern, suggesting that this could be the beginning of the end for kickoffs in football. Former player Mitchell Schwartz echoed Hekker’s sentiment, acknowledging that fair catches don’t address all the blocking and contact that occurs before the kick is caught. Former punter and podcast host Pat McAfee called the rule change “a joke,” expressing his disapproval.
Peace out to the kickoff…hope you guys enjoyed them while they existed.
— Johnny Hekker (@JHekker) May 23, 2023
This is a joke. https://t.co/WmEKXUt31W
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) May 23, 2023
Might as well just pull the bandaid and get rid of kickoffs. It’s coming soon.
And btw … fair catches don’t stop all the blocking and contact that’s happening before the kick is caught. https://t.co/mtDkArzRdG
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) May 23, 2023
A Bigger Impact Than Just The Game
The impact of this rule change extends beyond gameplay. Teams may now reconsider their roster strategies, particularly in terms of selecting returners and coverage team players. With kickoffs becoming less influential, teams might prioritize offensive and defensive talent over experienced returners or coverage specialists.
For players fighting for roster spots, special teams have traditionally been a crucial avenue to secure a place on the team. However, if one aspect of special teams becomes less significant, coaching staff and front offices may shift their focus to other skill positions, potentially altering the landscape of roster decisions.
As the new rule takes effect, its consequences will unfold throughout the 2023 season. The NFL will closely monitor its impact on player safety and the overall dynamics of the game, shaping future discussions on the role of kickoffs in football.