The NFL has tinkered with kickoffs in recent years, attempting to reduce the number of high-speed collisions on returns and make the game safer. But now the Baltimore Ravens are proposing a radical rule change on kickoffs that goes far beyond tinkering.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh and kicker Justin Tucker said this week that they want the NFL to adopt a new rule that would give the kicking team one point for putting a kickoff through the uprights.
“A kicker with a strong leg would be in favor of it. The idea would be that if you split the uprights on a kickoff you get a point,” Tucker said on the Dan Patrick Show.
Kickoffs come from the 35-yard line in the NFL, which would be the equivalent of a 75-yard field goal. The NFL record for the longest field goal is 64 yards, so it might seem unlikely that any kicker would make one from 75. But kickoffs go farther for a few reasons: They’re off a tee, rather than off the ground. The kicker places the ball exactly how he wants it, so there are no concerns about a bad snap or a bad hold. With no one rushing, the kicker can get a longer running start toward the ball. And with no worry of having the kick blocked, the kicker can kick with a lower trajectory, which allows the ball to travel farther.
Add all those things up, and Tucker thinks he’d be able to put it through the uprights about 20 percent of the time.
“Maybe one out of every five if the weather’s alright and the field is good,” Tucker said.
There’s never been anything like that rule in NFL history, although the Canadian Football League has a one-point kick of its own, known as a rouge, for a kick that goes into the end zone and is not run out. That’s about the most similar thing to the Ravens’ proposal as has ever existed in pro football. Obviously, Tucker and Harbaugh are motivated in part by selfish reasons: Tucker is the best kicker in the NFL, so the Ravens are the team that would likely benefit the most from such a rule change (although the Broncos would probably lead the league in kickoff points, as the high altitude in Denver would make kickoffs through the uprights easier).
But Tucker isn’t just looking for gimmicks to help strong-legged kickers like himself; he said he would oppose a proposal to make field goals from beyond 60 yards worth four points. And I like the Ravens’ idea for three reasons Tucker didn’t mention:
It’s good for player safety. When the NFL moved the touchback to the 25-yard line, the goal was to reduce kickoff returns. But that rule hasn’t made much of a difference because some teams now kick high and short in an effort to avoid touchbacks. The Ravens’ proposal would certainly reduce the number of kickoff returns: Teams would have a strong incentive for their kicker to kick it as deep as possible to try to get that bonus point, and when those kickoffs fell short of the goal posts, the returners would usually stay in the end zone because they’d be backed up near the end line.
It’s exciting for late-game strategy. Under current rules, we’ve grown accustomed to a seven-point lead meaning a touchdown and extra point can tie, an eight-point lead meaning a touchdown and two-point conversion can tie, and a nine-point lead meaning a two-possession game. This would change things. Now you could trail by seven and take the lead with a touchdown, extra point and kickoff point. Or trail by eight and take the lead with a touchdown, two-point conversion and kickoff point. And a nine-point game would be particularly exciting: You score a touchdown late in the game down by nine. Do you go for two and try to tie the game with a kickoff point? Or do you kick the extra point and try to win the game with an onside kick followed by a field goal?
It could feature an exception to the goaltending rule. The NFL currently has a rule against goaltending on field goals and extra points: A player who jumps up and touches a ball as it is about to go through the goal posts in an attempt to block a field goal is flagged for goaltending, a 15-yard penalty. But that rule shouldn’t apply to kickoff points, because it would be great to reward a kickoff returner who’s athletic enough to leap up and swat away a kick that’s 10 or 11 feet in the air. And in a late-game situation where one point is the difference in the game, a team could put in its best goaltender to try to block a kickoff point: How exciting would it be to see the Seahawks, in a tie game in the final minute, send Jimmy Graham back to jump up and block the kickoff from going through the uprights?
This idea is very, very unlikely to be implemented. But that’s because the NFL is a fundamentally conservative and traditional league that doesn’t like to try radical new ideas. Sometimes, however, radical new ideas are brilliant. This is a rule the NFL should adopt.