Advertisement

NFL hopes to revive kickoff return with new rules

ORLANDO – By a 29-3 vote, NFL owners approved major changes to kickoff rules for the 2024 season, adopting a version of the play the XFL had used in recent years.

Under the new rules, the kicker will continue kicking from the 35-yard line, while the other 10 members of the kicking team will line up at the receiving team's 40-yard line. The receiving team will put at least nine players in a setup zone between its 30- and 35-yard line, with one or two returners in a "landing zone" between the goal line and the 20-yard line. Until the ball hits the ground or a player, no one other than the kicker or returner is permitted to move.

The change, which was approved on a trial basis for 2024, comes after years of discussion over the future of the kickoff, as the NFL sought to reduce injury rates from the play and more teams kicked the ball out of the end zone. Only 21.7% of kickoffs were returned in 2023, the lowest rate in league history. With the new play, competition committee chair Rich McKay said Tuesday, return rates could be as high as 80-90%.

Teams will be permitted to attempt two onside kicks per game, but will not be able to attempt surprise onside kicks. Touchbacks will move from the 25 to the 30-yard line, though McKay said the rule could eventually change to place the ball at the 35 after a touchback.

Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, who worked closely with Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel on the rule change, called it "a great day for the NFL."

"We've taken a play that's essentially been dying over the course of the last few years, and in our opinion, we've revived it," he said. "The fact we felt like we can make this play a lot safer, and certainly more exciting for everybody, were the two main factors."

Owners voted to eliminate the hip-drop tackle earlier in the week, and the NFL announced on Tuesday owners also voted to move the trade deadline back by a week. It will be on Nov. 5 this year, instead of Oct. 29.

Additionally, teams can now receive a third challenge in a game by winning only one of its first two challenges (previous rules required teams to win both challenges to obtain a third). The NFL will also make a ruling of a passer being down by contact or out of bounds before throwing the ball a reviewable play, allow replay reviews of the game clock expiring before the snap and permit teams to promote an emergency quarterback from the practice squad, rather than forcing teams to carry a third quarterback on the active roster.