NFL Considering Drastic Rule Change: Report

By Jason Hall

March 4, 2024

Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles
Photo: Getty Images

A drastic rule change will reportedly be considered during the upcoming NFL Annual Meeting later this month.

A new kickoff rule would allow NFL teams to attempt an onside kick only when trailing in the fourth quarter and the team would have to declare their intention to do so in advance, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero on Sunday (March 3).

"No surprises: The new kickoff rule crafted by NFL special teams coordinators would allow teams to attempt an onside kick only when trailing in the fourth quarter — and require them to declare it in advance, per sources. Language still being finalized and owners must approve," Pelissero wrote on his X account alongside a photo of the New Orleans Saints successfully recovering a surprise onside kick against the Indianapolis Colts during the third quarter of Super Bowl XLIV.

The team declaring their intention to attempt an onside kick could then potentially utilize an unbalanced (6x4) formation in an effort to increase their chances of recovering the ball. Only 5.4% of onside kicks were recovered in 2023, which included just two surprise attempts that would be banned by the potential new rule.

Language was still being finalized in the proposal and the new rule must be approved by NFL owners during the Annual League Meeting from March 24-27, a source confirmed to Pelissero. The onside kick proposal is reportedly part of a larger concept of kickoff rule changes set to be discussed during the Annual League Meeting including:

  • Setup zone: Kickoff and return teams line up on the receiving team's 40- and 35-yard lines and not leave until the ball reaches the "target zone" of the 20-yard line to goal line.
  • Touchbacks: The receiving team gets the ball at the 35-yard line if the ball is kicked into the end zone. The receiving team will receive the ball at the 20-yard line if the ball is kicked into the target zone and rolls into the end zone.

NFL owners had previously approved a one-year rule change in 2023 allowing returners to fair catch any kick behind their own 25-yard line to begin their offensive drive on the 25-yard line. Only 22% of kickoffs were returned during the 2023 NFL regular-season and all 13 kickoffs in Super Bowl LVIII were ruled as touchbacks.

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