Update: Despite passing through the competition committee by a 7-1 margin, the resolution has failed, according to the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
Recovering an onside kick is close to becoming an extinct act in the NFL. The league enacted new kickoff rules ahead of the 2018 season in order to make the game safer, which requires kicking teams to have five players on each side of the kicker and prohibited running starts for all players except the kicker. The change worked, as the league announced in October there had been zero concussions suffered on kickoffs through that point of the season, but the unintended consequence is that it essentially killed the onside kick.
According to data compiled by the Elias Sports Bureau, 13 of 60 onside kicks were recovered in 2017 (21.7 percent), but recovery attempts plummeted to 4-of-53 last season (7.5 percent). The NFL said the 7.5 percent number isn’t out of line with pasts years, but that attempts were down — which, of course, could be explained away by reasoning that coaches don’t try as many surprise onside kicks anymore because they such an attempt would fail due to the new rules.
Have kickoff rule modifications impacted onside kicks? In 2018, the success rate on expected onside kicks (8%) was in line w/ previous years, while the frequency of surprise onside kicks — & their success rates — both fell. Here are yearly onside kick numbers since 2001. pic.twitter.com/treUC2umz1
— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) January 13, 2019
Well, the rules aren’t changing, so how can the onside kick be fixed? One idea, forwarded by the Denver Broncos, would be to scrap the onside kick in certain situations in exchange for an idea debuted by the AAF.
The AAF has banned onside kicks altogether, instead giving teams the option to try a 4th-and-12 from their own 28. If the ball gets to the 40 or beyond, the offense keeps it. If it doesn’t, the defense takes over wherever they made the tackle.
The Broncos’ idea would see the AAF alternative tweaked to a 4th-and-15 from the 35, but with some additional restrictions. Teams would only be permitted to try one 4th-and-15 per game, and only in the fourth quarter. If the offense commits a penalty during the play, they cannot change their minds and kickoff on the re-try, they must run another play.
“At least on fourth-and-15, it gives a team a chance to be able to pick up the first down, continue with the ball and score and get back in the football game,” Broncos VP John Elway said. “When you’re trying to do it with an onside kick, it’s very, very difficult with the new [kickoff] rules. So I’m excited about it.
So, will it pass? Apparently so. New York Giants owner John Mara told reporters at the league meetings in Phoenix this week that he, a competition committee member, is opposed to the idea — but that he’s the only one.
“What are we, the Arena Football League?” Mara said of the rule, according to ProFootballTalk.
Older owners of the older teams are generally against all rule changes simply because they’re resistant to all change, but if the competition committee is nearly unanimously in favor of the idea, it seems like the 4th-and-15 plan has a good shot at becoming reality.
The league meetings close Wednesday, so a verdict could come out as soon as today.