Fourth-and-15 discussion centered on two key concerns

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Of all of the proposals considered by NFL owners during Thursday’s virtual meeting, the most time was devoted to the conversation regarding the use of a fourth-and-15 play as an alternative, twice per game per team, to the onside kick.

As a source with knowledge of the conversations explained it to PFT, the discussion as to the fourth-and-15 play, as proposed by the Eagles, centered on two concerns.

First, if the kicking team recovers an onside kick, it cannot advance it beyond the spot of the recovery. The fourth-and-15 alternative, as a scrimmage play, would not be limited to the line to gain or the spot of the catch or anything other than where the play ends — up to and including a touchdown.

As the source explained it, some believe it doesn’t “feel right” to permit the team that needs only 15 yards in order to keep possession attempt to gain considerably more than that, especially if it has a high-end quarterback.

Second, the fourth-and-15 play puts extra pressure on officials to throw a flag for defensive holding, illegal contact, or pass interference. Whether officials call those fouls like they would on a normal play or take a “push the flag deeper in the pocket” approach, the situation will result in much more scrutiny being applied to the officials on those plays.

In a conference call conducted by the league after Thursday’s virtual ownership meeting, Competition Committee chair Rich McKay and NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent confirmed that discussion occurred as to the first point. Vincent said that someone mentioned in jest during the meeting that teams with Hall of Fame quarterbacks should be excluded from the conversation.

The overriding concern as to the fourth-and-15 alternative comes from striking the right balance between giving the team that is trailing an opportunity to win the game or force overtime and respecting the fact that one team has managed to, throughout the course of the game, secure the lead.

“You don’t want to make the comeback too easy,” McKay said. “You’ve earned the right to be ahead.”

As explained on Wednesday, making the fourth-and-15 play an untimed down could result in the elimination of a margin of up to 16 points in only a handful of seconds of clock time. That said, the league likes it when games remain undecided for as long as possible. Those games generate the most interest and hold their TV ratings longer. Given the availability of the fourth-and-15 play, a game wouldn’t necessarily be “over” when it otherwise seems “over” — especially if the team that is losing has a rocket-armed quarterback.

Despite the tabling of the proposal, the league office seems to want to see this change made, based on Thursday’s effort to push back against concerns that the fourth-and-15 play represents the first step toward killing the kickoff completely. While other concerns have derailed fourth-and-15 for now, the league realizes that it’s in everyone’s best interests for as many games as possible to remain in the balance for as long as possible.

Once the teams realize and accept that this change benefits the greater good, there will be a much greater chance that the change will be made.

Still, don’t expect that change to happen soon. According to the league, the measure is not expected to be revisited before the start of the 2020 season. Which means that this will be, at the earliest, a potential change for 2021.

16 responses to “Fourth-and-15 discussion centered on two key concerns

  1. …making the fourth-and-15 play an untimed down could result in the elimination of a margin of up to 16 points in only a handful of seconds of clock time.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Likely this concern was raised by Atlanta.

  2. They should just permit onside kicks to be conducted after the exact same fashion as they were previously without changing the other new safety regulations on typical kickoffs. Its not like ppl were getting slaughtered running the 10 yards for onside kick recoveries.

  3. Don’t give me that baloney about teams being able to score on the 4th-and-15, not just recover the ball. I’ve seen players score touchdowns on ONSIDE KICKS!

    And I don’t even want to talk about how referees might call fouls during it–who can guess what’s in any ref’s mind on any particular play at any particular time? They call such inexplicable things, especially as compared to the flagrant fouls they let go.

    None of that is worth not considering what actually could be kind of a cool play…

  4. Just realized this – the Eagles proposed this rule, NOT THE COMPETITION COMMITTEE. As in years past, team-sponsored proposals almost NEVER get approved. Only the ones coming from the competition committee get real serious consideration.

    Looks like we’ve been misled by the media again, thinking this was the league recommendation when clearly it was not.

  5. It’s a terrible idea. The kicking game is part of what makes the game interesting. The least interesting part of the NFL is the game of who had the better QB. More team play is more fun so get kick offs back in the game

  6. I agree with the guy above, They should just permit onside kicks to be conducted after the exact same fashion as they were previously without changing the other new safety regulations on typical kickoffs.

    That’s the easy solution.

    Anything else will feel madden-like. Don’t jack up the game.

  7. So much time wasted trying to fix something that A) Isn’t broken and B) Doesn’t come up all that often. Hard to argue onsides kicks are a major safety concern when they don’t even come up every game and being they are relatively rare why waste a ton of time looking into alternatives? They’re always focused on little side issues instead of really important stuff.

  8. LEAVE THE GAME ALONE!!! Why fix something that isn’t broken? Onside kick recoveries are supposed to offer low conversion rates. I can see this 4th and 15 with penalty flags or the lack of penalty flags. Now, you’re putting the game in the hands of the officials. Let’s worry about if we will have a season. Oh, if you want to protect a lead-Get a defensive stop.

  9. Not a good idea. If I’m a coach, Every game where I score first, I’m doing this. If you win the coin toss and able to score on your first drive. You’ve chewed up most likely at least 6 minutes, maybe 8. If you then continue to hold the ball from the other club by converting this sham 4th and 15 play, you either A. score a field goal at least to go up two scores B. weren’t able to convert the next series and will be punting from probably around your own 40 yard line to bury the other team with a coffin corner punt inside the 5, or C scored another touchdown, and chewed up another 6 -8 minutes of time doing so.

    Does the league really want image after image of Brees, or Mahomes, or Brady walking around bored on the sideline from not even being allowed on the field yet after almost the whole first quarter is up?

    In fact, I’d do this every single time I score if I’m a coach. Your worst case is you don’t convert and the other team takes over and maybe scores to tie it back up. So what. If it’s that I’m risking vs being able to bury the marquee quarterbacks on their own sideline yeah I’m doing this all game every game.

  10. They could have the 4th and 15 play, and if converted, the converting team then starts on their own 40 yard line regardless of how many extra yards were gained. So even if the team scores (which they wouldn’t with this idea because they’d be wasting energy), the ball comes back to the 40.

  11. If you absolutely have to do this, and it’s untimed, then it’s 4th and 15 from wherever you want. If you make the fifteen, the ball is yours at your own 25. No way should you be able to score if there’s no time run off the clock. No way should you be within easy reach of even field goal range, without earning it. (I know on-side kicks would give you ball farther up the field, but that’s when the ball is in play for both teams at the same time. with this malarky, it’s one team controls the ball.)
    Personally, leave it alone. This whole idea of “make it more interesting at the end of the game because we make more money” is stupid, greedy, theatrical, gimmicky and sucks.

  12. I don’t understand why they want to kill the kickoff.
    make it safer, make it more like a punt/free kick.

    Use what Greg Schiano or Mike Westhoff suggested.

  13. so why not return the onside kick to how it was, so that it can actually work sometimes?

  14. “It’s a terrible idea. The kicking game is part of what makes the game interesting. The least interesting part of the NFL is the game of who had the better QB. More team play is more fun so get kick offs back in the game”

    Devin Hester fans from years past would agree.

  15. Step 1: Get rid of the automatic first down on defensive holding. This is one of the dumbest rules in the book.

    Step 2: Now the refs won’t feel the pressure.

  16. The first issue seems like it shouldnt be an issue at all.

    The easy solution is that a team cant gain more than the allowable yards to gain. If a player catches a pass 10 yards from the LOS and turns up field, the officials blow the play dead after he crosses the line to gain. Problem solved. If a player catches a pass 25 yards down field, play is blown dead, and brought back to the spot for the “first down”, and then real action begins. The rules could simply prevent the offense from gaining more than the 15 yards needed (exception being a penalty, like a late hit or something, tack on the additional 15 yards). Just like would be the case on the onside kick recovery. The rule on the kick recovery is you cant advance the recovery. In this case, you simply cant advance the ball beyond the line to gain.

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