NFL team owners approve major kickoff rule changes


March 26 (UPI) -- Kickoffs will look much different in the NFL, starting with the 2024 season, after team owners approved major rule changes for the special teams plays at the annual league meeting Tuesday in Orlando, Fla.

"I think we're still going to have to tinker with it," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters at a news conference. "I think it'll be a big improvement and will bring the play back to being a relevant play, an important play and exciting.

"I think we can do it so the injury rate will drop."

Kickoffs still will come from the 35-yard line, but the 10 other players on the kicking team now must align on the opposing team's 40-yard line.

The receiving team must line up with at least seven players in a "set-up zone" -- a 5-yard range between their 30- and 35-yard line. The receiving team can place a maximum of two returns in the "landing zone" -- an area between their goal line and 20-yard line.

Kickers can't cross the 50-yard line and the other 10 players from the kicking team can't move from their opponent's 40-yard line until the ball lands on the ground or contacts a player inside the landing zone, or goes into the end zone.

Returners can move at any time before or during kickoffs. Other receiving team players in the set-up zone can't move until the ball hits the ground or a player in the landing zone or end zone.

Kicks that reach the landing zone must be returned. Those that land in the landing zone and then reach the end zone must be returned or downed. Receiving teams that down the ball will start their offensive possession on their own 20-yard line.

The league also approved onside kick changes, stipulating that they can only be attempted by the losing team in the fourth quarter or later. The kicking team also must announce its intention to attempt an onside kick.

The kickoff rules are only in place for 2024, but can be renewed in 2025.

Just 2 of 41 onside kicks were successful in 2023, according to An average of 4.8 onside kicks per season were successful since 2018, when the NFL also adjusted its rules for the plays, no longer permitting the kickoff team to make running starts.

An average of 11.3 onside kicks were successful in the 20 previous seasons -- 1998 through 2017 -- including 18 in 2007.