Skip to main content

The onside kick could be on its way out of the NFL

The NFL this season could experiment with an alternative to the onside kick.

The league on Thursday released a series of rule change proposals, and one of them would grant teams the choice to run a 4th-and-15 play from its own 25 rather than attempt an onside kick.

To be clear, this idea floated around for a while, and the league even tried it in the 2019 Pro Bowl before owners voted down the proposal, authored at the time by the Denver Broncos.

However, ESPN reports that this proposal, forwarded by the Eagles, is gaining momentum.

Only trailing teams would be allowed to try the 4th-and-15 option, at a maximum of twice a game. This would permit a team leading by, say, four points with eight seconds left from running a 4th-and-15 play rather than kicking off.

Roughly 12 percent of non-surprise onside attempts were successful until a 2018 rule change that limited alignments teams were allowed to use, which then cut the success rate in half.

This chart from the NFL shows 4th-and-15 attempts are slightly more successful than onside kicks, though this does not differentiate between surprise and telegraphed onside kicks. The NFL said 6.1 percent of non-surprise onside kicks were successful in 2018.

Screen Shot 2020-05-21 at 3.27.29 PM

Teams would still have the opportunity to attempt a traditional onside kick, but the XFL eliminated onside kicks as part of its reimagining of the kickoff, and it appears it's truly only a matter of time until the 4th-and-15 option makes its way to regular NFL play.

Among other changes, NFL owners will vote on whether or not to add a booth umpire and a senior technology adviser, who could -- repeat: could -- assess their own fouls based on what they see from the press box.

This is yet another example of the NFL's belief that the only way to fix imperfect officiating is with more officiating. See: the NFL making pass interference a reviewable penalty after the Saints-Rams miss in the 2019 NFC Championship, a change that is thankfully going away after this season.

The idea of an all-seeing, all-knowing Eye in the Sky sounds good until it's your team who takes a penalty from a referee who doesn't have to defend the flag face-to-face with a head coach.

Thankfully, the NFL is expected to adopt the proposal only as a preseason experiment, according to ESPN.

Owners will cast their votes during a virtual meeting on May 28.