At next week's owners meetings in New Orleans, the competition committee will propose moving the kickoff up 5 yards to the 35-yard line, and bringing a touchback out to the 25.
This not a good rule for a team like the Bears, who have three of the NFL’s best kickoff-returners in Johnny Knox, Danieal Manning and Devin Hester. In 2009, Knox was second in the NFL with a 29.0-yard average on kickoff returns. In 2008, Manning led the NFL with a 29.7-yard average. Last year Hester only returned 12 kickoffs, but he averaged 36.6 yards, and he’s scored 4 touchdowns on kickoff return plus another to open Super Bowl XLI.
This will make games – especially Bears games – much less exciting. Just about any NFL kicker can consistently reach the end zone from the 35. That means less returns for the Bears’ trio of big-play guys. The only reason for considering the rule change is to make the game safer, which it might do, but at what cost?
"The injury rate on kickoffs remains a real concern for us, and the players and the coaches' subcommittee," said Falcons president Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee. "This is a pretty major change."
Pretty major and pretty boring. It will turn one of the most exciting plays in football into one of the most uneventful. Can’t you just imagine the electric atmosphere created by a kickoff that sails through the end zone while 11 players see how fast they can sprint downfield to cover the kick only to pull up when they see it’s unreturnable. Whoo-hoo.
Under the proposed rule, no player other than the kicker would be allowed to line up more than 5 yards behind the ball, and the competition committee will suggest outlawing the wedge on kickoffs. All blocking wedges were reduced to two players in 2009.
If the proposal becomes a rule, the game might become marginally safer, but it will definitely be less exciting.