NFL Owners Approve Kickoff Proposal

During the final day of the annual league meetings, NFL owners ratified the proposed changes to kickoffs, as first reported by Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports. The new setup will be used for the 2024 season before being re-assessed, SI’s Albert Breer adds.

The proposal set to be reviewed by the league’s Competition Committee and later all owners was finalized last week. While it was not termed to be an ‘XFL-style’ setup, the proposed alignment essentially mirrored that which the spring league used in recent seasons. The Competition Committee unanimously approved the proposal (with a slight tweak to touchbacks in one instance), setting up today’s final vote.

As Mark Maske of the Washington Post notes, though, questions remained regarding whether or not owners would vote during the March meetings or delay a decision until May. Further lobbying from those in support of ratification was believed to be needed overnight, with The Athletic’s Kalyn Kahler reporting five additional ‘yes’ votes would be required to achieve success. In the end, the final tally was 29-3, per Jones.

All rule changes require 24 votes to pass, so support for the ‘hybrid’ kickoff setup was more than strong enough to attain ratification. As Jones notes, the three ‘no’ votes came from the Packers, Raiders and 49ers. Several coaches and special teams coordinators have voiced trepidation over the substantial alteration which will now take effect, though, which comes as little surprise given the sweeping nature of the changes. 2024 will be marked in large part by the success (or lack thereof) of the new setup in increasing return rates while also reducing the high-speed collisions which make kick returns the most dangerous play in the game.

The new rules – summarized effectively ahead of the vote by ESPN’s Jeff Darlington (video link) – had the backing of commissioner Roger Goodell. The 2023 campaign (during which fair catches for kickoffs were introduced) saw a continuation of the downward trend of returns, punctuated by the first ever Super Bowl in which every kickoff resulted in a touchback. A substantial change should be expected for next season.

As ESPN’s Kevin Seifert notes, NFL return rates dropped to a record-low 21.7% last year. The XFL, by contrast, had a rate over 90% with its setup over the two-year run which preceded its merger with the USFL. Seifert adds the NFL special teams coordinators who crafted the proposal are aiming for a return rate of at least 80% in 2024. Reaching or even approaching that figure would result in a notable spike in special teams action compared to recent years.

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