If the NFL’s owners vote this week to pass the proposed “fourth-and-15” alternative to the onside kick, teams will be able to use it whether they’re leading, trailing or tied.
There was some confusion about the proposed rule because an NFL summary said it would “allow a team who is trailing in the game” to come from behind. But that summary was only designed to capture the impetus behind the proposal, which was to help teams come from behind. The proposal itself never said teams had to be trailing to use it.
Because the alternative can be used by leading teams, and because the clock runs on the “fourth-and-15” play, some teams might use it purely for clock management purposes. A team that scores a go-ahead field goal or touchdown with only a few seconds on the clock might decide to try the alternative to the onside kick simply to run around for a few seconds until the game is over, rather than kick off and risk a kickoff return touchdown.
The alternative to the onside kick is limited to twice per game, and teams have to inform the referee they’re doing it in time for the referee to inform the opposing team. Otherwise, there are no restrictions.