Normally, when I hear the plethora of new rule proposals the NFL is considering each and every offseason, I roll my eyes and sometimes even say to myself or out loud, “Come on, Coach T (Mike Tomlin is a member of the NFL’s competition committee that meets each spring in conjunction with the annual owners’ meeting), give these officials a break! Don’t they already have literally too much to focus on every regular season/postseason?”
However, the AAF (the Alliance of American Football), a new football league that began play immediately after the Super Bowl, adopted an alternative to the onside kick, where, instead of using the unpredictable bounce of a kicked football, a team would have one crack to convert on “fourth and 12” in-order to retain possession.
When I heard that rule, I was not only intrigued, I was hoping the NFL would consider adopting it for the 2019 season at its aforementioned annual meeting that took place last week in Phoenix, Arizona.
The NFL's version of this rule, one that was heavily championed by the Denver Broncos and would have granted a team that was trailing late in a game a shot at converting on “fourth and 15,” was unfortunately voted down by the owners.
I guess I can see that. However, weren’t they saying similar things about the AFL way back in the 1960s? And didn’t many of the “gimmicks” utilized by that league ultimately shape the future of the NFL?
I know an alternative to the onside kick could have breathed some new life into something that is now in very critical condition following the many rules changes aimed at player safety in recent years. According to NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman, from 1992-2017, onside kicks were recovered at a rate of 21.2 percent. But in 2018, the rate was a very sparse 7.7 percent.
Maybe in its proposed form, the new onside kick alternative would have put way too much pressure on defenses whose job in the modern NFL is already difficult enough. If you’re a head coach who just saw his team’s lead shrink thanks to a three-play, 80-yard drive by Aaron Rodgers, would you want to give him one more play to pick up another 15 yards? I’d much rather take my chances with my “hands team” trying to recover one of those unpredictable bounces.
In today’s NFL, your average franchise quarterback can pick up 15 yards in his sleep—or at least at a much higher rate than your average kicker can actually perform a decent enough onside kick so as to give his guys a chance to recover it. Therefore, the burden on opposing defenses would just be too great. However, if you increased the yardage to gain to 25, now you’ve got yourself a rule that would be perfect in my opinion.
Yeah, sure, 25 yards seems almost impossible to pick up in most cases, but not likely as impossible as trying to gain possession via an onside kick. The defense would still be at a huge advantage, but a team trailing late in a game would at least have a puncher’s chance of maintaining possession after a score.
According to the Jeremy Bergman article I’ve referenced a few times, the competition committee was very much in-favor of this onside kick alternative. Therefore, maybe they can work out the bugs between now and next spring.
And maybe the NFL can pass a new rule that won’t have me ruling my eyes or talking out loud to myself.