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.