NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is considering a rule change that would basically eliminate kickoffs in game altogether. This radical idea was presented by Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano.
A team, instead of kicking off, would get the ball at its own 30-yard line in a fourth-and-15 situation. The team then would punt the ball away or, to replace an onside kick, could go for it and, if it failed to get a first down, the opposing squad would start with great field position.
The thought process is that this is much safer than kickoffs, where most head injuries take place. However, this change is simply too radical.
It is important to look out for player safety, but you do not want to start making unnecessary changes to rules that could alienate fans and team personnel alike.
In the new system, organizations would have to make dramatic changes that include putting more emphasis on punters and less emphasis on kickers, special-team specialists and skilled returners. The entire roster could look different.
Punter Thomas Morstead of the New Orleans Saints is on pace to set an NFL record with a net average of 44.8 yards. Someone like him would be in for a huge pay raise.
On the other hand, Darius Reynaud of the Tennessee Titans would be out of a job. He is one of the best kick returners in the game, but there is no reason to keep him on a roster just to return punts.
Heading into last season, the league made a change that moved the kickoff starting point from the 30- to the 35-yard line. This small move made a dramatic difference, as it produced more than twice as many touchbacks.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, the players returned only 53.5 percent of kicks in 2011, compared to 80.1 percent in 2010.
This change eliminated one of the more exciting plays in football, but it also reduced the number of concussions, which was the desired effect.
If there is this much of an impact from such a small modification of the rules, imagine what would happen if a major change like eliminating kickoffs was made.
Devin Hester is one of the best kick returners in NFL history, so he obviously has a vested interest in this proposed change. Unsurprisingly, he does not approve. He told Chris Jones of ESPN the Magazine, “They might as well just give us a flag and a T-shirt. They’re taking away some of the best plays of the game.”