The NFL is crowd-sourcing ideas to “modernize” the punt. The campaign is partly an opportunity to make punt plays safer and, frankly, more watchable due to the absurd amount of penalty flags thrown on punts. And it’s partly a chance for Rich McKay and Co. to show those millennials that the NFL competition committee can be just as hip as those insta-facing, snap-booking Ariana Grande-types, right dudes and dudettes?
With that in mind, here are The MMQB’s suggestions, which range from pretty good to insane to objectively terrible to for the love of Hekker, give us a taek instead of all that well-thought-out logic, Breer!
You want to make the punt—an inherently unsafe part of an inherently unsafe sport—safer? Get rid of it completely. It’s really the only option that would be anything more than a palliative fix. Fans enjoy the rare punt return that is taken back for a touchdown—there have only been five such returns this season—but the majority of punts are either kicked out of bounds, ended immediately with a fair catch, or returned for a few yards (with several head-on collisions involved). If we want to remove those full-speed collisions, the only way to do so is to eradicate the play completely. Force teams to go for it on every fourth down, even when backed up in their own half of the field. Sure, it would change the fabric of the game of football as we know it. But if you are really trying—and I mean really, truly trying—to make a wildly dangerous sport safe, that’s what we’re going to have to do.
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Let it be known that I like the punt the way it is. But I understand the punt police are coming for the play so let give my offering: I would make a rule that you cannot leave your feet on a punt-block attempt. I think we see a lot of roughing/running into the kicker when defenders leap to block the punt. I know this will really decrease the chances of blocking a punt—and I'm not wild about it, but it would probably make the play safer. (Though it wouldn't make it better!)
First, punt and kickoff returns are the best plays in football, don’t @ me. (My first NFL jersey as a kid was Devin Hester, so that’s where I’m coming from.) I would hate to see punts or kickoffs altered so dramatically that we lose those moments. So I agree with Jonathan, that a rule that you cannot leave your feet on a punt-block attempt would probably make it a safer play and preserve it for the future by protecting punters from roughing. Though it would likely cut back on the second-most exciting play in football: the punt block! So really, let’s not change anything.
Make punts dead at the point where the ball touches the ground. That would give incentive for punting teams to boom it for distance and away from the returner. And when the ball is caught and returned, it's likely to be further downfield, so defenders are unlikely to be sitting there ready to deliver an immediate big hit. And short punts wouldn’t be returned because returning teams wouldn’t risk the muff if the ball is dead upon hitting the ground anyway.
I’m not sure if this will make the game any safer (probably not?), but I make it so a team cannot have the same person punt more than once a game, which would essentially eliminate the rationale for a standalone punter position on the roster. Then, more odd position players would have to punt, leading to more blocks and crappy punts, and more points. And that’s really what we need. MORE POINTS. Either do that, or get ahead of the XFL and adopt the CFL’s halo rule, which eliminates the returner getting plowed over and also encourages more returns. But I prefer insanity.
My suggestion is not necessarily how to make it safer but more a suggestion of how to improve the use of the punt: Teams should not be allowed to punt from the opposing team’s side of the field. Once the offense crosses the 50-yard line, the team must go for it on fourth down. Not only does it provide an out for coaches who struggle with that kind of decision (looking at you, Jason Garrett), but it also adds an extra element of excitement to NFL games, forcing offenses to stare defenses square in the eye, instead of just giving them the ball 50 yards down the field.
I co-sign Bette’s idea. I also propose that any coach who punts on fourth-and-5-or-less while trailing inside the final four minutes of a game must—immediately after the conclusion of the play—stand at the 50-yard line and, using the referee’s microphone, explain his decision while he is heckled until my voice is hoarse.
I wouldn’t change it. I don’t think there’s a need modernize it. I do think the NFL’s idea to crowdsource it feels like an attempt to take some more liability off its plate, while passing the buck (wasn’t our idea!) if they implement change that doesn’t work. And in the end, it just looks bush league. I’m in favor of keeping kicks and punts as part of the game, because change would be change to the structure of football, and I’m all for tweaks that make those plays safer for players. But there’s also a point where you have to accept that it’s an inherently dangerous game played by guys who’ve accepted some level of risk. I think “crowdsourcing” a rules change like this inadvertently proves that the league itself is struggling to with that.
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