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NFL owners approve new rule for fair catches on kickoffs

The receiving team will now have a much bigger say on if they choose to return a kickoff.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

The NFL is currently holding their spring league meetings this week where they are making multiple decisions when it comes to NFL rules and procedures. After several rules were announced yesterday, one of the issues it was table was ultimately decided on Tuesday.

According to multiple sources, the NFL has made a change to the rules regarding a fair catch on a kickoff for the 2023 season.

The new rule is to be applied on any free kick which would be a kickoff or a free kick following a safety. As stated above by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, this rule falls in line with what was recently adopted in the NCAA.

So why did the NFL create this new rule? It all comes down to player safety. The NFL has been tweaking various things with kickoffs for years as they are statistically the most dangerous and injury-prone plays in the NFL when it comes to concussions. Players are traveling at full speed down the field resulting in multiple high-speed collisions— more than any other play in the game. By adding this wrinkle for a fair catch, the number of kick returns is likely to decrease.

In recent years, the NFL moved the touchback for a kickoff from the 20-yard line to the 25-yard line in hopes that more teams will opt for a touchback and reduce the number of kickoff returns. While this did make it a more appealing option for the receiving team, what kickoff teams have been implementing is an attempt to get a high kickoff landing short of the goal line and forcing the other team into a return in order to pin them deep in their own zone. Whether or not there has been a kick return was often placed in the hands of the kicking team if they could successfully keep the ball out of the end zone and not allow the team to take the touchback. Now, the team can simply fair catch a ball inside their own 5-yard line and have the spot be placed at the 25-yard line. This means kick returns are now at the discretion of the receiving team and can’t easily be forced by the kicking team.

The official ruling can be seen here courtesy of NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero:

So what do you think? Should the NFL continue to try to make kickoffs more obsolete in the name of player safety? It’s difficult to believe player safety is the ultimate driving force behind moves based on the league’s implementation of rules concerning Thursday Night Football. But reducing the number of kickoffs in a game isn’t likely to affect the NFL‘s bottom line, making it their best method to things in the name of player safety.