NFL should just get rid of the “most dangerous play”

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The NFL has a problem. Well, the NFL has plenty of problems, most of which have no impact on the bottom line. This specific problem eventually could impact the bottom line, in a variety of ways.

The NFL knows the problem exists. Indeed, prominent NFL figures and league leaders routinely acknowledge it. But the solution to date has been a string of half measure that, in the case of the latest attempted fix, could make things worse instead of better.

“[T]he kickoff return remains the most dangerous play that we have in the game, has the highest rate of concussions,” Giants co-owner John Mara said, joining a chorus that has been singing the same tune for years now about how risky the kick return is.

It’s indeed the most dangerous play in the game, not just because of concussions but because of the potential consequences to the cervical when two players running full speed at each other instinctively dip their head immediately before impact. And yet instead of getting rid of it, the NFL is simply trying to minimize the number of times it happens.

From a numbers standpoint, the approach makes some sense. The fewer the kickoff returns, the lower the risk will be that someone will suffer the kind of injury that put former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

But the risk is still there. If the NFL eventually loses that numbers game, the rest of us won’t say, “We told you so.” We’ll say, “You told yourselves so.”

From a liability standpoint, it’s unclear how much risk the league would be facing, since any lawsuit arising from the worst-case outcome to the “most dangerous play” would be subject to the grievance procedures of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. From a P.R. and morality standpoint, however, how can the NFL continue to justify playing Russian roulette?

While there are far more empty chambers in this specific gun, there’s a bullet lurking in there somewhere, and the NFL knows it.

Reducing the number of kickoff returns doesn’t make the situation any better, especially since having fewer kickoff returns makes the players who are performing that play less prepared to do so. The problem becomes more pronounced if/when (when) a head coach decides not to activate a player who knows how to properly execute his assignment during a kickoff in favor of a player who fills a more important role, but who also will have to cover or block for kickoffs despite not being particularly suited for that task.

Then there’s the very real possibility that the experimental movement of the touchback point from the 20 to the 25, aimed at increasing touchbacks, will have the opposite effect, prompting teams to use squib, mortar, and/or moonshot kicks in an effort to pin the opponent inside the 25. If that happens, there will be more instances of the “most dangerous play,” not fewer.

So just get rid of it. The owners meet next month in Charlotte, at which time at least 24 of them can come together and agree that, instead of trying to minimize the number of times the “most dangerous play” occurs, they can just scrap it.

They collectively have the power to do it, and they individually will bear the responsibility to the next player who breaks his neck or worse while carrying out his assignment on the “most dangerous play” if they don’t.

93 responses to “NFL should just get rid of the “most dangerous play”

  1. This seems to be common knowledge that kickoffs are dangerous … but does anyone have any actual statistics to back up this “fact” ?

  2. Ridiculous,..c’mon people it is football. Players know the risks! You take away a big strategic part of the game if you do away with Kick off,….the on-side kick,….

  3. The games should just be decided via best of 5 coin flip, followed by 3 games of “I spy” and then a paper boat race…cant wussy that up anymore …no wait…players might get paper cuts…cancel the boat race

  4. No, no they shouldn’t. It’s no secret football has, and always will be, a dangerous sport. It’s you’re gonna play, PLAY IT, rather than neuter it. Attorneys ruin everything.

  5. And then…move on to the next “most-dangerous” play after that, and eliminate that too?

  6. So what are the percentages and how much more “dangerous” is it from the next most dangerous play?
    BTW: What is the next most dangerous play? I just want to know what play the NFL will try to do away with next, once the kick return is eliminated.

  7. please stop messing with the game.

    Holy crap.

    Honestly the extra point crap was bad enough, in that it could possibly put the balance of an otherwise epic game on the line over something as trivial as an extra point.

    Now if you eliminate kickoffs you’re taking one of the most exciting and anticipated plays out of the game.When one team scores the excitement of the other team possibly responding right away with a KR TD is such a cool part of the game.


    Everyone says the NFL is untouchable and will never lose popularity – I call BS. I will go watch hockey if you start dismantling the game until it is unrecognizable.

    it is already hard to watch an NFL game these days and witness the JOKE penalties over perfectly legit hits completely derail your team.




  8. I really don’t think we will recognize the game of football in 20 years. I’m all for safety but geez when will this end. After they get rid of kickoffs, another play will now be in the highest statistical position. So will they then remove that play? When does it end?

  9. I am all in favor of eliminating it, just as long as they eliminate the superfluous commercial break that comes with it. Should speed the game up by 10-20 minutes…

    *Commercial Break – Kick through the back of the endzone – Commercial Break”

    In all seriousness though, I’ve been in favor of eliminating it for a long time. It’s rare that anything interesting happens, and the risk of injury is too great. Can you imagine colliding head on with an NFL player at full speed? Yikes. The counter-argument of course is the “wussification of the NFL” but watching some guy get crumpled into a heap so that the offense can start at the 22 instead of the 20 (now the 25 or whatever) is not of major interest to me. I like my players standing upright when they retire and with a minimal amount of brain damage, thank you.

  10. Then Mara penalized the Cowboys and Redskins…

    Cause an owner that is able to penalize other teams is fair, right?


  11. You going to get rid of punts too?

    its dumb because countless times a team is struggling offensively and the only thing that keeps them in the game/gets them back in the game is a big return (See broncos vs colts last year)

  12. Playing football itself is inherently dangerous. What does he think they should do about that?

  13. Not even punts or interception returns get as many big bodies smashing into each other at full speed. I enjoy them, but they aren’t the reason I watch football. It wont bother me that much if they are removed.

  14. Actually, if you see where the science is beginning to point, the “most dangerous play” is every single play. Repeated blows to the head like what you see along the line on every play in an NFL game are very bad long-term; it’s not just the huge hits that do damage.

    The NFL is up against a wall because the moment they start taking things like kickoffs away claiming that nothing outweighs player safety they open the door to the logical outcome of admitting the entire sport is too dangerous to play. They’d better hope for some great breakthrough in helmet technology or they’re in danger of not being around one day.

  15. 400 years and still no one has said it better than Shakespeare, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” The owners only real concern is liability, not safety that’s just lip service. Waivers for everyone as part of the boilerplate in every player contract and have done with it. It’s unfortunate that serious injuries happen but they are inherent to the game. Removing the onside kick eliminates any drama from the last few minutes of a 2 score game, it may be the straw that breaks the cash cow’s back.

  16. i think they only made it worse with the new rule change. i think there will be more kickoff returns this year.

  17. If you eliminate the kickoff, what do you do about onside kicks? That is a serious strategy consideration in games.

    Also, what do you do about punts?

    While I’m not in favor of it, if the NFL was really serious about risk of injury of hits, why not adopt the college rule of the play stopping when a player’s knee hits the ground? That would stop the piling on that happens or the extra defensive hits (and it often seems to me that it is defenders hurting other defenders by borderline late hits trying to knock down a runner).

  18. Life is risk. These are grown men wearing full protective gear and earning huge money to voluntarily play a kid’s game. There are millions of miners, construction workers, and laborers that would do this “dangerous” job in a heartbeat.

  19. Unfortunately this is probably true. They are slowly going to morph into a different sport and hope we don’t really notice

  20. Jibbooo says:
    Apr 20, 2016 12:32 PM
    This seems to be common knowledge that kickoffs are dangerous … but does anyone have any actual statistics to back up this “fact” ?


    Gee let’s see, 250 LB men with 4.4 speed running full speed at each other with a 40-50 yd head start.

    Is that dangerous?

    Try driving you car straight into a brick wall and let us know how that works out for you.

  21. The most dangerous play is when someone is down, and the other team keeps driving them backwards while the player is immobile stuck in the middle of the pyle.

  22. There’s an easy way to clear up a lot of concussions in the NFL.

    Just get hold of Rooney and tell him to get Tomlin to coach up their DB’s and LB’s to not hit opponents with their helmets…….

    That would be a great start…….

  23. Ridiculous. Football is a great game. Sure, you need to make adjustments for safety from time to time. But kickoffs are an important, integral part of the game. How many games are won and lost by special teams?

    And as much as people like to point out how dangerous kickoffs are, the vast majority of those paralyzed in the game of football have been cornerbacks and safeties, usually engaging in unsafe tackling techniques, followed by lineman, who routinely batter each other with their helmets.

    It’s football. Much like MMA, boxing, rugby, amateur wrestling, etc., it will never be completely safe.

  24. When I was a kid we used to play a game where 4-5 guys would kick off to 1 guy…then go mash him. Full tackle, no pads.

    Didn’t hurt me a bit…and, it didn’t hurt me a bit. Ooohh…donuts…

  25. If we have no sports we will have no sport related injuries! On a related note- MLB, due to the concern over the ever increasing number of Tommy John surgeries, is removing the pitcher and letting the batter himself throw the ball up in the air and hit it instead being pitched to.

  26. I hope they don’t get rid of it. It might be the most dangerous play, but it can also be the largest momentum swinger play.

    Also, what about on side kicks? Are they going to allow those at the end of games?

  27. Instead of eliminating the kickoff, can we eliminate the commercial break between the extra point and the kick off? And then the commercial break between the kickoff and 1st down?

  28. The only way this will work is if you give teams a choice whether to kick off or not. If they choose not, the ball is placed at say the 30 yard line. If they kickoff, it happens from the say the 15 yard line.

    That way a team can still attempt an onside kick.

  29. phillyphan420 says:
    Apr 20, 2016 12:35 PM
    No, no they shouldn’t. It’s no secret football has, and always will be, a dangerous sport. It’s you’re gonna play, PLAY IT, rather than neuter it. Attorneys ruin everything.
    Misguided opinion held by many. It’s not attorneys. It’s the law that lets people sue. (Like the gun debate…guns don’t kill people, people kill people, right?). If you want old football back like me and the rest do, the answer is to petition your legislators. They can pass a law tomorrow limiting liability to the NFL. Some states have it for doctors and medical malpractice.

  30. How about we eliminate Mara, Goodell and a lot of the other scum running the league instead ?

  31. No matter what the league does, there will always be a “most dangerous play”

  32. I agree with most of the posters here that this is a slippery slope and could result in unintended consequences. They should leave special teams alone, including the extra point. Now it’s too late. They should’ve voted to put those back at the 2, where the 2-point conversion continues to be.

  33. Weren’t kickoffs moved back from the 40 yard line to reduce touchbacks? So, move the kickoff point back to the 40 yard line. Try that before eliminating kickoffs, IMO.

  34. Keep the kickoff, just get rid of the penalty for kicking out of bounds. That way more teams may try and pin their opponent inside what will now be the 25 yard line.

  35. If you scrap kickoffs you scrap on-side kick options! And it’s not the kickoff play that’s the problem – it’s the number of guys running at full speed into each other from opposite directions. So insist on both teams’ players all starting closer to the kickoff spot, say within 15yds or some such (i.e. no one deep), so that both sides end up running back towards the ball – and move the kickoff back 15yds to compensate for the receiving team no longer having anyone deep. That way you eliminate higher speed impacts and yet keep the fun uncertainty, and specialism, of the kickoff.

  36. The most dangerous play in football is also the most exciting play. Go figure.

    They can eliminate ALL injuries just by not playing the game.

  37. You know that feeling you have of a constant, annoying drip being applied to the center of your forehead over & over & over…it’s the propoganda machine of the liberal left trying to bubble wrap the world & make us all safer, at the expense of our freedom of choice.

  38. Give the team the option whether to kick off or take it at the 20 or 25. That way, the onside stays (if they want it to).

  39. Then when you remove the kickoff you will have voices trying to ban the next “most dangerous play” then again and so on and so on. Football, especially at this level is inherently with risk. Diluting the game is the worst thing you can do. You can make improvements with equipment etc that can maximize safety, but to change how the game is played kills the sport. These are grown men who know the risks.

  40. For the amount of touchbacks that occur, you might as well get rid of them. The unfortunate thing is that a few jobs will be lost if that area of Special Teams no longer exists.

  41. I have loved and followed this game my whole life and am now 59 . the wussifaction of football continues .

    lets all go to our ” safe zones ” where we cant get hit or called mean & hurtful names .


  42. So if it is less dangerous does everyone make less? Do ticket prices go down or would some owners pocket the difference? I know the topic is about safety but this crept into my head?

  43. streetyson you are spot on! Kickoff team lines everyone up on their own 20yd line. All 11 men on the receiving team are lined up 15 or 20 yards downfield (on the 35 or 40). No one is deep to receive. Standing starts only for everyone but the kicker. I threw this idea out there in a “kickoff elimination” story on this site a while back. Some coach really ought to test this off-camera somewhere, tweak it so the receiving players get to the ball and have some chance to run with it, and bring it to the league.

  44. Actually it’s a way to effectively increase size of roster, since teams don’t need to allocate as many spots for ST skills and can focus on positional player skills.

    On the other hand, ST players usually don’t get the same salaries as positional players, so this move might put pressure on the salary cap.

  45. I agree, the kickoffs need to be eliminated. The NFL has to reduce the number of concussions or eventually it will be forced out of business by lawsuits and moms who won’t let their kids play.

    If teams could find enough kickers to kick the ball out of the end zone every time, there wouldn’t be any kickoff returns anyway.

  46. If the NFL bows to this stupid social pressure/fictional risk and eliminates kick-off returns, then I stop watching football.

    It’s one of the most exciting and possibly momentum turning plays in football.

    How about punts? Can’t believe the are THAT less of a risk.

    stupid, stupid, stupid..

  47. pixelito says:
    Apr 20, 2016 12:50 PM

    Gee let’s see, 250 LB men with 4.4 speed running full speed at each other with a 40-50 yd head start.

    Is that dangerous?

    Try driving you car straight into a brick wall and let us know how that works out for you.

    Not a real good example. Usain Bolt runs about 23 MPH, the NFL LB is a lot slower. 23 MPH won’t do a lot of damage to a car. Airbags deploy at about 15 mph, but they are at a speed of 200 mph on deployment.

  48. I don’t recall seeing too many returners getting seriously hurt. Since they haven’t released any stats, I believe it is the bigger guys on the second level. Just get rid of blockers standing 20 – 3o yds away from the kickoff team and sprinting at someone to hit. Make it more like punts were everyone but the kicker and returner are within 15 yds. Worth discussing rather than getting rid of the play altogether.

  49. pixelito says:
    Apr 20, 2016 12:50 PM

    Gee let’s see, 250 LB men with 4.4 speed running full speed at each other with a 40-50 yd head start.

    Is that dangerous?

    That literally never happens.

    I can’t think of the last time I saw someone get injured during a kickoff.

    Besides, the NFL effectively eliminated the kickoff already, when they moved where they are kicked from. Most kickoffs sail right through the back of the endzone.

  50. How many injuries in rugby compared to the NFL? The solution might be to take off all or many of the pads and helmets and play it that way.

  51. If the NFL eliminates the kickoff, the vikings might as well cut Cordarelle Patterson right now. Haha – nice wasted draft pick, Rick!

  52. Still no numbers. No stats. No evidence whatsoever that kickoffs are any more dangerous than any other play.

    Sure, the degree of potential injury is obviously escalated due to the fact that players are running at high speed toward each other, whereas in other football plays, not so much. But the degree of potential injury has nothing to do with whether more injuries *actually happen* on kickoffs.

    Saying kickoffs are the most dangerous play is like saying that flying is more dangerous than driving. Until I see real data I’m not buying it.

  53. Put the kicking tee at the 0. The kicker kicks off. Where it stops is where the other team gets the ball. If it goes out of bounds, 15 yard penalty from that spot or 40 yard line, “receiving” team’s choice.

  54. Bring back the single point for kicking it through the uprights on a kickoff: eliminates most returns–today’s kickers may miss to the sides; short seems a lot less likely–but still allows for onside kicks, which are strategically important.

  55. There will always be a “most-dangerous” play.

    If you eliminate Kick Offs, then something else will become the “most-dangerous” play. Do you eliminate that too? If so, then something else becomes the “most-dangerous” play. And so on until it is no longer football.

  56. Owners want the play eliminated because they fear it will injure a player, in turn costing the owner more money as they still need to pay the player while he recovers as well as possibly signing a replacement. What they don’t realize is that taking the danger..aka “entertainment” out of the game will cost them far more in the long run as their fanbase will dwindle as people stop watching the game all together.

  57. and what about on onside kickoffs? not a word about that huh

    Yep. Better eliminate:
    1) Punt Returns
    2) Onsides Kicks
    3) Interception and fumble returns. (Ball is automatically dead where player recovers)

    Then we will have all the plays when someone is “running fast down the field” in the opposite direction of another player eliminated.

  58. I would’ve come down on the side of retaining the kick-off…until I witnessed the Ricardo Lockette injury. Literally took my breathe away. The size of football players over the years has increased by a huge percentage. I don’t think any of us can really appreciate the impact of a 250-300 pound man hitting a 180 pound man at full speed. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I don’t ever want to witness a death on the field because I didn’t want to mess with the “integrity” of the game.

  59. A question for any tort lawyers out there; wouldn’t the theory of assumed risk preclude any injury lawsuits by players? Sideline cameramen have been injured in collisions with players and cannot sue. Fans at courtside at an NBA game can’t sue if a player lands in their lap. So why would an NFL player be able to sue for his injuries when everyone and his half-wit brother-in-law knows football is dangerous.

    To use the boxing analogy; would’t it be like a boxer suing because the other guy keeps hitting him in he head?

    What are the players saying about this?

  60. it’s funny Mara (giants gm) only doesn’t like special teams play for all the games his giants lost from their poor play and now he wants to use concussions as his scapegoat

  61. They can put a couple of flags in the back pockets of the player with the ball.

    And only allow light blocking with a penalty if a player gets knocked to the ground.

    Then, I can go golfing on Sundays.

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