The Eagles have proposed an onside kick alternative for a second consecutive offseason. This one appears headed where the last one ended up.
Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports that the fourth-and-15 alternative to the onside kick isn’t likely to pass.
Instead, the Competition Committee is proposing to limit the receiving team to nine players in the “setup zone,” hoping that could fix onside kick success rates. The “setup zone” is defined as the area between 10 and 25 yards from the spot of the kickoff.
Currently, receiving teams always put 10 or 11 players in the “setup zone” when expecting an onside kick. Receiving teams expecting an onside kick line up with 10 players in the “setup zone” 87 percent of the time, and all 11 players in the “setup zone” the other 13 percent of the time, according to NFL tracking data.
Votes on all proposals will take place Wednesday with 24 of 32 owners needing to approve a rule change for passage.
The Eagles’ proposal would allow teams the chance to maintain possession after a score with a fourth-and-15 play from their own 25-yard line. Two concerns about the proposal surfaced:
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.
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.
Onside kicks have become anticlimactic since the NFL changed kickoff rules to prohibit a running start by the kicking team. Teams attempted 67 onside kicks in 2020 and recovered only three, according to thefootballdatabase.com. That was fewer than in 2019 when eight of 63 were recovered.