Special teams coaches could propose requiring two returners on kickoffs

The NFL wanted to make kickoff returns safer. They did that in 2023 but with a consequence: Kickoff returns set a modern-day low with only 22 percent of them returned. Twelve of the 13 kickoffs in the Super Bowl landed out of the end zone.

Twenty-three percent of kickoffs during the regular season went through the end zone.

The league's one-year trial of allowing teams to fair catch a kickoff for a starting position at the 25-yard line is not expected to return next season after 92 fair catches.

NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent calls kickoffs "a dead play" or a "ceremonial play" with what transpired in 2023.

Saints special teams coach Darren Rizzi, Cowboys special teams coach John Fassel and Bears special teams coach Richard Hightower met with the Competition Committee to try to find a balance between an "acceptable injury rate" closer to the injury rate on scrimmage plays while encouraging more kickoff returns.

They want the return rate in the 36-38 percent range, which would add 3,000 plays back into the game.

The special teams coaches have discussed the XFL-style kickoff as well as requiring teams to have two kickoff returners deep and giving teams possession of the ball on the 35 after a touchback that lands in the end zone or beyond the end zone, among other things.

All of the special teams coaches will meet Saturday with the expectation that they present a proposal to the Competition Committee next week.

"This year, they gave us all different kinds of options and things to look at," Vincent said. "This is an important part of the game. When you start talking about adding that number of plays, and you get the right returner, you definitely go into a game with an advantage."

Using the XFL approach, most players will be only 5 yards apart at the moment the kick is received.

"[The special teams coaches] were real clear: We're not the XFL. . . . They wanted to make sure we're the National Football League special teams coaches, but there are some elements that we believe could work," Vincent said.

The XFL model likely would change roster makeup for teams, with offensive linemen unlikely to be used on kickoffs. The General Manager Advisory Committee will consider that aspect of any kickoff proposal.