NFL kickoff rule changes: Special teams coordinators to propose major onside kick, touchback revisions

Injuries are one of the biggest concerns in the NFL right now. Head trauma prevention takes the front seat with higher CTE risks than researchers once thought possible.

Over the past several seasons, football has made changes to increase injury prevention, for better or worse, and that doesn’t figure to stop anytime soon. How exactly new changes will appear is yet to be determined, but fans and players now have an idea of one possible set of rule changes that would radically alter kickoffs, especially onside kicks.

Special teams coordinators met at the NFL Combine to discuss a proposal to change one of the most injury-prone plays in the sport. The changes have the dual goal of increasing returns and decreasing the speed at which players hit each other.

Here’s a look at everything involved in the special teams proposal.

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Proposed NFL kickoff rules changes

Special teams coordinators are creating a proposal for the NFL that would change a variety of kickoff rules, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

Most notably, the changes would affect onside kicks. Teams would only be allowed to attempt them while trailing in the fourth quarter, and they would have to announce the onside kick ahead of time.

There were only two surprise onside kicks last season, but one of the most pivotal plays in Super Bowl 44 between the Colts and Saints was New Orleans’ surprise onside kick to open the second half.

Additionally, the offense could use an unbalanced formation of 6×4. Only 5.2 percent of onside attempts in 2023 were successfully recovered, so the new lineup would ideally increase recovery chances for the kicking team.

The proposal also includes differences in kickoff setup, as well as touchbacks. If it’s approved, players cannot move on kickoffs until the ball reaches a certain point.

Perhaps most interesting is that touchbacks kicked into the end zone would result in the receiving team starting at the 35-yard line. If the ball is kicked into the “target zone” and rolls into the end zone, teams would start on the 20. 

Pelissero outlined all of the proposals in a series of tweets.

The proposal includes ideas that might be unusual to fans, but it would make special teams plays much more interesting. At its current rate, kickoffs are one of the most dangerous plays in the game, and it seems coordinators are simply trying to adapt. 

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A vote could come as soon as late March in the NFL annual meeting. Twenty-four owners must approve it for the proposal to be put in place.

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