Compelling evidence regarding player safety was brought to the forefront of topics at this week’s NFL owners meeting. Research shows that concussions are five times more likely to occur on kickoffs. The NFL has already tried to make this element of the game safer by having the kickoffs take place from the 35-yard line instead of the 30. This actually backfired as concussion totals continue to rise. As Packers president Mark Murphy revealed on Wednesday, this aspect of the game may be done away with altogether.
“If you don’t make changes to make it safer, we’re going to do away with it, Murphy said. ”It’s that serious. It’s by far the most dangerous play in the game.”
When the NFL changed the placement of kickoffs in 2011, they also moved where the receiving team would get the ball if it resulted in a touchback. Before, the ball would be placed at the 20-yard line, but now they start at the 25.
With the risk of giving the opposing team better field position, kickers are no longer ok with routinely pounding the ball through the back of the end zone for a touchback. The new tactic is elevating the ball and letting it drift inside the 10, giving kick coverage plenty of time to get down the field and make a tackle.
As a result, one team has all the leverage as they are already in a dead sprint while the other is just receiving the ball. Even if the ball makes it into the end zone and it results in a kneel down, players are still attempting to block someone coming at them full speed. Thus, there is still a risk for injury.
“We’ve reduced the number of returns,” Murphy said, “but we haven’t really done anything to make the play safer,” as reported by ESPN’s Kevin Seifert.
Special teams is a third of the game of football and kickoffs play a huge role. If onside kicks are no longer an option it would eliminate one of the most exciting plays in sports. Also, how team’s game plan at the end of games would have to change as well.
The next step will likely be eliminating kickoffs during preseason games to see if the amount of injuries reduce. At the moment, no changes regarding kickoffs have been made for 2018, but the NFL has data to consider.
___________________Brandon Carwile was a Cheesehead at birth. His dad grew up attending games at Lambeau and passed on the legacy. He has covered the Packers for over five years and currently works with packerstalk.com. Find him on twitter at @PackerScribe.