Focus on making the punt safer could be a precursor to a bigger change

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Over the past few years, the NFL has been nudging toward eliminating the kickoff. Before that happens, the NFL apparently will be dressing up the clubhouse leader to replace the traditional process of starting a game.

That’s the immediate takeaway from the news that the NFL wants to make the punt safer, and that the NFL has appealed to fans for ideas for doing so. Before the punt replaces the kickoff — most likely via a fourth-and-15 scenario that allows for the team that would be kicking off a chance to retain possession — the league needs to check the box regarding all reasonable efforts to improve the play.

And no one will be able to accuse the league of failing to make all reasonable efforts to improve the play when the league has openly invited, with a $20,000 inducement, anyone and everyone to submit their ideas.

So whether it’s 2019 or 2020 or 2021, the kickoff currently is on a year-to-year arrangement, and in any given year the kickoff can be replaced by the fourth-and-15 play. And the fourth-and-15 play has plenty of potential, even though many will resist it, perhaps loudly.

But that’s why this process is unfolding slowly. The NFL knows that it can’t suddenly dump the kickoff. Fans need to be ready for it. Ideally, fans need to want it. And maybe the sharply reduced success rate for onside kicks will be the thing that makes fans prefer a chance to see a team retain possession by converting a fourth-down play.

Regardless, the effort to make safer a play that can never be removed from the sport, the punt, has plenty to do with the looming possibility/probability that this play will become even more important, since it eventually will be used a lot more.

58 responses to “Focus on making the punt safer could be a precursor to a bigger change

  1. Going to a 4th and 15 play is only a good idea if you start tilting the rules back in balance. So many 4th and 15th attempts would be successful from a tacky PI or Holding call.

    I’m ok with the idea as long as they start allowing people to play defense to a point again and stop making the CBs play blind, hog tied, and given the offense a 10 second head start.

  2. There’s an interesting YouTube video out there where Jon Bois crunches the numbers regarding kickoffs and points out that it could be eliminated quite easily from the game and not affect drives, etc. I was in the camp of “how dare they change a fundamental play of football!” before this video and realized, ‘Huh…” Before people react emotionally, it’s worth looking into the reality once you actually see numbers. The one thing necessary is figuring out an alternative to the onside kick.

  3. I have the same issue with this that I had with the extra point change- the element of surprise. You used to be able to line up for an extra point and fake it for 2. The element of surprise was a big advantage. Similarly a surprise onside kick is very different than trotting the quarterback out and informing everyone that you’re going for it on 4th.

  4. I’m in favor of no change but if they’re committed to it, how about simply not allowing it to be returned or downed/recovered by the kicking team? If the returner muffs it and the ball rolls forward, it’s downed where he first touched it. If it rolls backward, it’s down where he recovers it or it goes out of bounds. Receiving team can still block it so there’s still that element. Heck, I’ve been a fan of fair catching it every time for years b/c there’s a penalty more often than not on the receiving team anyway…

  5. The 4th and 15 play is too big of a change in that the “kickoff” team could run a scoring play out of it instead of merely trying to get a first down and possession.

    If you are trailing by a touchdown or less with 0:01 remaining today, you can’t recover the onside kick and score because the onside kick would drain the clock. In your proposal, 0:01 is plenty of time to run a play. This changes some game dynamics more than what might be acceptable

  6. I didn’t realize punts were unsafe relative to other plays. Kickoff injuries appear to have gone down this by year too thanks to some of the rules changes. Regardless, eliminating these plays will be very controversial because special teams is the way a third of every roster make their living and actually sees the field. Doubt then NFLPA will be happy about getting rid of kickoffs without increasing either roster space or salary guarantees.

  7. Player safety? Yeah right. It is all about over inflated offenses. Cant wait until we hear about average quarterback be an all-time great’s… whoops too late on that one.

  8. I’d maybe make it 4th and 20 or 25. 4th and 15 seems easier to convert than an onside kick, especially with the new kickoff rules. I think after the Bears recovery Sunday only 4 of 30 have been recovered this year

  9. These rules are getting dumber by the minute. I don’t get why they want to change the game so much.
    It’s football, it’s physical.

  10. In order to save time, every kick will start 10 yards further away, and the ref will no longer announce the jersey number of the player who committed the block in the back foul.

    Now how do I collect my 20k?

  11. Why can’t the punt be removed? Either go for it on 4th down, or the opposing team gets the ball on their own 20 yard line? I mean, we’re happy to eviscerate the rest of the game but yet the punt is described as “the play that can never be removed from the sport”? As far as I’m concerned, the NFL has shown itself willing to make any change to the sport necessary, to the degree I scarcely recognize it anymore.

  12. Holy crap. How about making the defensive line count to 5-one thousands before they can cross the line of scrimmage?

  13. The NFL continues to slowly ban themselves. “To save the sport, we must kill the sport” is their new motto. Kickoffs, now punts. Soon they’ll address how guys get hurt a lot while rushing the passer or when blocking in goal line situations.

  14. Perhaps requiring the defensive player to say “May I” before tackling the offensive player would add civility to the game and prevent preventable injuries.

  15. I vote that the Captains meet at the 50 yard line to play tiddlywinks. The ball is at the 20 unless the receiving team wins. Then it is at the 30. Solved! Meanwhile the rest of the special team players can practice their knitting on the sideline.

  16. Are we going to pretend that the kickoff is necessary to good football? It isn’t. We can get along without it just fine, and it makes roster building much easier. I don’t care, it is just a high risk play with very little in benefit. Look how many holding or blocking penalties there are; a team is just as likely to start in a deep hole as it is to getting a good return.

  17. If they went to a 4th and 15 scenario Mike Brown could just get rid of Andy Dalton and AJ Green and rest of the offense. They can’t stop anyone on 3rd or 4th down so they would just have the defense on the field all day.

  18. I think the percentages on 4th and 15 are too high. Would basically be the same percentages as 3rd and 15 from a one play sense, which is completed all the time. I think some modifications could help, like defensive penalties don’t come with 1st downs and don’t add more than 5 yards unless they are deliberate roughing penalties, and perhaps the offense could be given the choice of having to run across the 15 yard mark (run or pass short) or throw over it, but not be allowed to just do it either way, so that the defense has a better percentage not having to defend both. On kickoffs, the ball has to cross a certain distance before the kicking team can touch it, so the same thing could be done on this play, where the offense has to throw it at least 15 yards and cant do a short pass over the middle and set up blocking or a qb sneak.

  19. Yeah, it’s a lot safer to put teams in a 4th and 15 where they gotta chuck the ball downfield where a safety is just sitting back there waiting to crush the WR who is on a deep cross.

  20. Sure… It’s the precursor to getting rid of much of special teams and a ton of players on the team. Which raises profit, allows star players to be paid more like Basketball players, etc.

    The roster could probably go from 53 to 40ish if special teams were no longer part of the game.

  21. When your team has battled for the lead all game, do you want to take a chance on snuffing out an onside kick or stopping Tom Brady on a 4th and 15?


  22. We are going to control the game better, not so many explosive game changing moments…(that better Vegas?)

    Regards, Commish

  23. the punt is a key component of changing field position. The game of football and rugby and soccer rely on field position. How could you eliminate or change a key aspect of the game? It’s not just about scoring. If you can’t score you can still greatly increase your chances of scoring by impacting the other teams field position. Why is this so hard to understand?

    Dear NFL, if you keep pushing the game into your fantasy football/flag football model you’re going to ruin it. You are ruining the game.

  24. For kickoffs, just give the team the ball on the 25 yrd line. Eliminate the play. The ave runback gets to the 22/23 anyway. For onside kicks, you get the ball if you kick it thru the uprights(75 yrds). Over a 10 yr span, success rates for expected onside kicks were a little under 20%. When the Ravens proposed teams get 1 pt for that, Tucker said he could do it about 20% of the time under optimum conditions. So it would be a wash. You’d eliminate the rare, but most exciting play in FB, the return, but make the game safer. Despite the old school guys complaining, this is the direction it will have to go, or they’ll be no FB at all.

  25. In an effort to improve offense across the league, I’m proposing each game has an “all time QB” that plays QB for both teams, that way the league only needs 16 starting QBs per week

  26. Kickoffs and punts could both be replaced by a play where the team in possession politely hands the ball to the receiving team captain. He would then ask what the receiving team thinks is a “fair” field possession that suits everybody. The receiving team would then take the ball to that field position, where both teams would exchange a group hug, before play begins again, after a 15 minute TV timeout.

  27. “Despite the old school guys complaining, this is the direction it will have to go, or they’ll be no FB at all.”

    This is exactly what the NFL is thinking but it is totally illogical. These plays in question are only marginally more dangerous than regular plays so the end result is just that some other play simply moves to the front of the line as being the most dangerous and in short order they’re addressing THAT play and so on down the line until the sport doesn’t exist any longer.

    It’s absurd that you can have cars running into walls at 150 miles an hour and people routinely tearing up their bodies going 80 miles an hour down ski runs but the NFL can’t have kick returns.

  28. Would have to be 4th and 30+.
    The AAF will test the new rule in February. If they get it 20% of the time then it will be 40% for NFL QBs.

  29. The plays in question are decidedly NOT marginally more dangerous than regular plays. When the NFL was researching this, they found that under the old KO rules. 17% of catastrophic injuries happen during these plays. But they only constitute 6% of plays in a game. That’s why the NFL needed to address it. Also, the NFL is a multi Billion, maybe even trillion dollar operation. if this continues, they’ll get sued out of business. Not to mention, nobody’s gonna let their kids play anymore.

  30. Safest and most cost effective way to solve this and all the other issues is to replace all of the players with robots. Not sure that it will help attract new fans but no players would be hurt playing a game that they worked all their lives to play.

  31. collectordude says: “The NFL is a not even a shadow of its former self.”

    There’s an easy solution for you. Turn off the tv. Don’t watch. You won’t need to complain and just go enjoy your life.

  32. So let’s reward a team for sucking all game with a gimmick onside kick opportunity to try to steal a game…

    How about play some defense so you’re not behind?

  33. Soon the NFL will be so safe no one will be watching!

    You couldnt get me to not watch even the worst of the worst teams play….now I sometimes DVR Pats game and watch them later…5 years ago that would have been unthinkable.

    I never miss an SEC football game.

  34. Okay, how about this one? Paint a circle at midfield the size of a sumo ring. Put one player from each team out there and let them wrestle until one player is thrown out of the circle or knocked down. Whoever wins, his team gets the ball at their 40 yard line.
    What the heck — since they think kickoffs and punts are a waste of time, might as well give the fans some UFC type action.

  35. In the 2002 regular season, there were 17 KO returns and 22 punt returns for TDs.

    Through 75% of this season? 3 KO returns and 5 punt returns for TDs.

    So they have already ruined the kicking game from an excitement standpoint.

  36. Hey guys… How about you read the post before you comment?

    To those complaining about eliminating the punt–They are not.

    The traditional kickoff would be replaced by a punt. The onside attempt would be replaced by a 4th down scenario.

    The punt would not only still be a part of the game, but would end up being more important.

    People on here love to blame the media and politicians for the state of the nation. How would they even know what the media (or a political figure) says if they can’t even read a 600 word post about football correctly.

  37. The kickoffs should just be performed in Madden, and that will determine the teams starting position. Much safer.

  38. With kickoffs and punts eliminated I predict they will lose many many older fans such as myself. I’ve already cut back my viewing to just portions of the Pats games and the playoffs / Super Bowl.

    I won’t be watching any games after they get rid of the kicks.

  39. Football is a violent sport…hello? Don’t like it, don’t play…let the men who love to hit play and entertain

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