Clock management may be a factor in teams deciding whether or not to use the proposed fourth-and-15 alternative to the onside kick.
The rule proposal, which will be voted on by NFL owners, is envisioned primarily as an opportunity for teams to get the ball back after scoring. That’s what the onside kick has always been for, but in recent years kickoff rule changes have made onside kicks harder for the kicking team to recover, so this alternative has been proposed.
But it’s been largely overlooked that the rule proposal submitted to the owners says, “The Game Clock starts on the snap, and normal NFL timing rules apply.” So unlike an extra point, two-point conversion or kickoff for a touchback, time will run off the clock when teams use the onside kick alternative.
That may dissuade some teams from trying it. Consider, for instance, a team trailing 27-13 that scores a touchdown and kicks an extra point to make the score 27-20 with 2:01 left on the clock. That team might decide it’s better to try to kick off for a touchback and not waste the two-minute warning, rather than try to get the ball back with the onside kick alternative knowing that the next play will be run after the two-minute warning.
Or consider a team that scores a go-ahead touchdown with only a second or two left in the fourth quarter. That team might use the onside kick alternative just to have the quarterback kneel down and run the remaining time off the clock, rather than kick off and risk a kickoff return touchdown.
If the onside kick alternative is adopted, there may be some unintended consequences — and perhaps some clock management advantages for smart teams to find.