Poll: Should NFL Change Onside Kick?

More support for a rule change that would significantly diminish the onside kick’s impact on the game emerged this week. The NFL discussed a proposal that would give teams the opportunity to attempt 15-yard conversions to keep the ball, rather than try onside kicks. Although the league tabled the proposal, ownership was nearly dead-even on it.

This year’s fourth-and-15 proposal — which would have given teams the option of trying two 15-yard conversions (on untimed downs) per game — is believed to have received support from 16 teams, whereas the other half of the league was against. Steelers owner Art Rooney II represented one of those against, calling it “gimmicky,” but expressed support for finding a way to change the onside kick.

Since the NFL prevented kicking-team players from receiving running starts before onside kicks take place, the play has become a less relevant part of the game. Non-surprise onside kicks have been recovered at around a 9% rate since 2018, per NFL data and analytics head Michael Lopez.

From 2010-17, non-surprise onside kicks were recovered by kicking teams 13.2% of the time. Teams have converted third- or fourth-and-15 plays 16.5% of the time over the past 15 years, according to Warren Sharp of SharpFootballStats.com. While 2020 will increase the sample size for the current form of onside kick, the alternative scenario would seemingly provide teams better chances at making comebacks.

The sect of NFL owners who came out against the fourth-and-15 proposal did so because of concerns it would threaten the kickoff’s place in the game. Both of the past two spring-league efforts — 2019’s Alliance of American Football and 2020’s XFL reboot — did not use the NFL’s kickoff setup, with the AAF removing the play altogether and the XFL using a creative format that placed everyone but the kicker and return man five yards apart to reduce the chances of high-speed collisions. The NFL made an effort to do the same nine years ago by moving the kickoff back to the 35-yard line — after it stood at the 30 from 1994-2010. This increased the touchback rate. The onside kick, however, will remain in place for another season. Is it on borrowed time?

Should the NFL move toward introducing a fourth-and-15 sequence (or a similar play involving the offense) to replace the onside kick? Vote in PFR’s latest poll (link for app users) and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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24 comments on “Poll: Should NFL Change Onside Kick?

  1. kaehlaone

    This idea seems to gadgety for me. They should just go back to the original onside kick

  2. Afk711

    No this shouldn’t even be a discussion. If you put yourself in position where you need the ball back to win a game, your only choice is to onside it. This would be like if the NBA implemented “buckets” after a score.

      • dugdog83

        Basically on the kickoff most of the kicking team would line up on one side of the kicker and as long as the ball would go 10 yards it’s a free ball. Kicking team would try for a big bounce for a jump ball or kick it at an opposing player and hope he bobbles it. If kicking team recovers it’s their ball at that spot. Makes 4th quarter comebacks happen more. Great for the sport.

  3. cant_teach_speed

    This is a stupid rule. Inside kicks are supposed to be miracle last hope plays, not a legitimate chance to steal a game. And, any team that doesn’t have an elite QB is essentially at a deficit. Nobody really has an inside kick advantage. Stop changing sports after every season to try and increase tv ratings

    • Matthew Heywood

      Exactly we’ll said a team with an elite QB or offense has clear advantages here and will steal games . No thanks try again NFL

  4. ctyank7

    Didn’t the long ago WFL or USFL have a wrinkling the rules that allowed teams to keep the ball after touchdowns if they were down 21 or more? Some rule change based on this can keep games closer and more interesting.

    • Matthew Heywood

      That is a dumb thing hurting the team that is winning . Why do that ?

  5. DarkSide830

    100%. the current form of the kick makes the rule essentially irrelevant. we need something that actually works.

  6. Steezy

    Go back to the old rules. They can add something like if the kicking team gets a running head start, the ball cant travel further than 20 yards so the can maintain the changes they’ve made on normal kick offs.

  7. Hannibal8us

    Onside kicks are actually the dumbest part of football, they rarely work even with the old rules. When they work it’s exciting but literally every other time it’s a bad kick or it goes directly to someone. Anything that removes kickers from football is good in my book. SB Nation did a great YouTube video on how dumb the onside kick is, I recommend giving it a watch.

    • “SB Nation did a great YouTube video on how dumb the onside kick is, I recommend giving it a watch.”

      No, they didn’t. They did a video on how kickoffs in general were stupid. They actually said that the onside was good because it increased excitement at the end of the game but bad because it was weird. Then they mentioned the 4th and 15 proposal by Greg Schiano. I recommend giving it a watch.

  8. Ak185

    The old way will not return because it was changed due to “player safety” reasons. Not sure how true that is, since “player safety” actually means “evidence to be presented during concussion suits that the NFL should never have to pay anything”, but once the NFL uses that reason as cover for a rule change, it’s over. I lost faith in that definition entirely when they used it as justification for their silly helmet rule (as if it were impossible to have the exact same “top rated” helmet model painted in more than one color between games, or just two sets of the same type of helmet for alternates). However, I know that once the NFL has chucked a rule into that category, changing it is a lost cause.

    That’s why they’re debating gimmicky proposals like this instead of just going back to the old way. Onside kicks should be difficult but currently they are impossible (if I remember correctly, the Falcons recovered two of those in the same game last year, which in a sample size in single digits, skews the data). If they have to change it, maybe they should try something else. I dunno, maybe making the first line of guys on the receiving side ineligible permanently, essentially turning them into permanent blockers, which would give the kicking team a better chance without changing their new setup? I know, it’s dumb, but so is their rule change, so I don’t know what to suggest.

  9. The old rules for kickoffs were exciting. It’s a pity the kicking game has become such a waste of time. Soon, it will be impossible to recognise the NFL. Call it flag football with loopholes for career-ending and life-threatening injuries.

    The rules on tackling the passer in particular are insane and game-changing. It’s impossible to reliably tackle the passer and not incur a roughing the passer penalty. It’s half-hearted arm tackles only, out of which the more slippery NFL quarterbacks easily dance.

  10. ricebooth

    I feel like this just opens the door to throwing it down the field and hoping for a pass interference call. Then we can all argue about how PI changed the course of a game or other penalties. Just my joinable opinion but I don’t like the idea at all.

  11. enowit

    Here’s an idea: Instead of kicking the ball off, the team that was losing could instead opt to keep the ball starting at their own 20 yard line. For the rest of the possession, they would have only 2 downs instead of 4 to make a 1st down (in essence, they would start each series 3rd and 10). The chances of making numerous 1st downs would be low, but the excitement of 3rd down is the most tense play of the game for the offense, defense, and the fans.

  12. I’m fine with them not allowing teams to get the running start again, but I never understood why they stopped allowing trams to overload on one side of the ball. Whether they’re spread out or bunched, it’s still the same number of collisions.

  13. mantlerose

    Team x on Offense must score a touchdown.
    Team x must attempt 2 pt conversion from the 1 pt spot. If they succeed, Team x will receive the kickoff to start again on offense. Adjust the kickoff rule so the kicking team can not recover the ball until the receiving team attempts to advance position. That removes the onside.

  14. Barflies

    Selfishly I want this. Games will be more exciting. Yes especially if you have an elite quarterback. But at the same time it also seems very circus-like.

    Should be more free kicks.

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