This morning NFL owners voted to pass a rule that will move touchbacks out to the 25 yard line. The logic behind this move? The NFL considers kickoffs to be the most dangerous play in the entire game, and fair enough. Lots and lots of players suffer severe injuries on what can be considered the most exciting play in the game. Who doesn’t get hype for any sort of kickoff? But the NFL’s idea to reducing injuries on these plays is to… encourage kickoffs? Yep. By moving the touchback out to the 25 yard line, us fans can expects to see lots more high, short kicks, or squibs next year as teams get creative in pinning their opponent as deep as possible. As teams receive the ball at the 10-15 yard line, its logical to expect to see less touchbacks and more kickoff returns next season. The exact opposite of what the NFL wants to do.
Now, on paper the move makes sense. An extra 5 yards should encourage receiving teams to take the touchback, because the average kickoff return is less the 25 yards. And really, the move would be insignificant enough if not for the reason behind the change. Changing rules to make game safer is important. Unfortunately, the NFL has a long history of implementing rule changes that both take away an important part of the game, and don’t actually make the game any safer. Another example of this in this year alone would be the banning of all chop blocks, and you can find countless other examples in recent years, but I digress.
As of last season, most coaches would encourage their kickers to simply aim for the touchback. They’d rather have a team start at the 2o yard line, than risk a huge return. But five yards makes a difference, and already several special teams coaches have confirmed that they will now be aiming to pin teams between the 5-15 yard line, thus leading to more kick returns. So yes, while five yards may seem insignificant, this rule changes will actually accomplish the opposite of what the NFL wants, and may actually lead to more injuries. Whoops.