NFL Submits Kickoff Proposal Ahead Of League Meeting

10:15pm: Roger Goodell viewed a Super Bowl in which all 13 kickoffs went for touchbacks as a sign a better solution is necessary, and Jones adds the commissioner backs the proposal that would implement the XFL-style kickoff on a trial basis. Goodell’s support obviously represents a critical component here. Fans may need to prepare for a radically different kickoff setup next season.

The phrase “XFL kickoff” might be scarce at the meetings, per Jones, who adds the NFL can tweak the language of this potential rule change. But this adjustment looks to have momentum ahead of the next gathering of owners.

11:26am: A number of proposals have been submitted by the NFL in advance of next week’s annual spring league meeting. Included among them is a plan to significantly re-vamp kickoffs in the hopes of keeping the return game alive while ensuring better safety than the current set-up.

The proposal – which, if ratified, would be in place on a trial basis for the 2024 campaign – calls for kickoffs to take place at the 35-yard line. That is already the case, but many other elements of the revised set-up would mark a notable change from the traditional alignment used. The 10 players other than the kicker would line up at the receiving team’s 40-yard line, while seven players on the receiving team would be positioned in the ‘set up zone’ between their own 35- and 30-yard lines (the proposal is illustrated well in these graphics, via NFL Network’s Judy Battista).

Up to two returners would be allowed to line up in the ‘landing zone’ (the space between the 20-yard line and the end zone). No players on the kicking team will be allowed to move until the ball is caught or hits the ground; the same holds true of the players on the receiving team in the set up zone. Notably, the proposal dictates any kicks inside the landing zone (or those which land there and bounce into the end zone) must be returned. The NFL allowed for fair catches on kickoffs in 2023, something which led to the continued decline of runbacks.

Of course, this proposed setup will be familiar to spring football fans. The XFL used the alignment being put on the table during its most recent iteration. Notably, though, the United Football League (consisting of the former XFL and USFL) will not be using it during its inaugural campaign this spring. In any case, the principals of the alternate kickoff format offer the potential of lowering the injury risk of the play while keeping returns a relatively normal occurrence.

Touchbacks under this proposal would take a number of forms. Kicks downed in the end zone would put the ball at the 20-yard line, while those which go through the end zone would result in the receiving team starting at their 35. Kicks short of the landing zone would be treated as a kick out of bounds. With respect to onside kicks, the existing formation and rules would be in effect and teams would be required to declare their intentions of performing one from the fourth quarter onwards.

The proposal will be discussed at the League Meeting; at least 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners will need to approve it to achieve ratification. When the framework initially emerged, CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones reported the format was expected to be green-lit. If that ends up being the case, special teams play will look much different in 2024.

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