With the kickoff point moving from the 30 back to the 35, two of the top kick returners aren’t happy with the change.
“I’m very upset about it,” Josh Cribbs of the Browns told Adam Schein and Rich Gannon of Sirius NFL Radio. “I highly disagree [with] the rule changes. Especially while there’s no CBA in place I’m just baffled by their reasoning behind it, you know, changing the rules. Of course I know the reasoning behind it. I just disagree. Trying to make the game safer, I commend their efforts. I just think it could’ve been handled a lot better. Changing those rules will affect a lot of people including myself and incoming college [players] as well.”
Cribbs thinks, as do many, that this is part of the process of laying the foundation for an 18-game season.
“One of our main reasons for not having this two-game extension is because of our player safety,” Cribbs said. “We feel the season is long enough. That’s one of our biggest things, is our contracts aren’t guaranteed. So if we get hurt, if something happens to us, we’re like, hey, this two-game extension cannot happen. So their take is, hey, we’re gonna make the game a lot safer. If you look at the past eight years, all the rule changes with the wedge, hitting a guy defenseless and this, this and that, the rules, the games have been changing a lot so they can add this. But they’re not seeing how it is changing people’s playing styles. You’re asking guys to change up the way they’ve been playing their whole careers, their whole lives, and you’re asking them to do stuff that didn’t even get them into the NFL. This is a great sport already. We know what we signed up for.”
Cribbs is concerned that an exciting aspect of the game is being jeopardized.
“They always say in basketball free throws win games,” Cribbs said. “Well, you know what? In football special teams win games. It doesn’t matter how good your offense or defense is, if they give up one kickoff return, one fumble on punt return, that changes the whole game drastically. You win and lose games on special teams and that’s what me and Devin Hester have been able to do for our teams. So if you take that out of it, I mean, you lose the excitement [of] all these 100-yard returns.”
Speaking of Hester, the man who holds the record for career punt and kickoff returns also isn’t happy.
“They might want to put up the arena nets, because they are gonna be a lot of balls going in the end zone,” Hester told Waddle & Silvy on ESPN 1000 in Chicago.
Hester fears the impact of the change on the Bears’ offensive efforts. “I think it could hinder us a little bit because we dwell on good field position. . . . They’ve gone too far, they’re changing the whole fun of the game.”
We’re not sure that the “whole fun” of the game will be changing. The reality, as to Cribbs and Hester, is that the change in the rule potentially undermines their relevance and thus diminishes their value. In the end, it could result in money coming out of their pockets.