NFL owners consider kickoff changes and hip-drop tackle ban

The NFL’s competition committee has proposed changes to kickoffs and a ban on hip-drop tackles, with team owners set to vote on the alterations at next week’s annual league meeting.

The committee is presenting six possible rule changes to be considered, with the most far-reaching being an alteration to the way in which teams line up for kickoffs.

Proposed only for the duration of the 2024 season, the rule change would feature new alignments for the kicking and receiving teams in a bid to reduce high-speed collisions.

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Designed to lower concussion rates and in response to declining return rates, the new kickoff system would feature a “landing zone” between the goal line and the receiving team’s 20-yard line.

If the change is passed, kickers will continue to kick from the 35-yard line, with the rest of their team-mates lining up at the receiving team’s 40-yard line.

The kicker’s team-mates will be unable to move until the ball hits the ground or a receiving player in the landing zone or the end zone. All kickoffs that hit the landing zone would have to be returned, with two receiving players stationed there, while touchbacks would take the ball to the 35-yard line, rather than the 25.

If the change is voted through by at least 24 of the league’s 32 owners, teams will also have to inform officials if they wish to attempt an onside kick, banning surprise uses of the tactic.

The NFL has made several changes to kickoffs in recent years in a bid to reduce injury rates, including moving the kicker forward and allowing a fair catch to be spotted at the 25-yard line.

Another change proposed by the committee concerns the use of hip-drop tackles, a dangerous tackling technique blamed for several injuries throughout the 2023 campaign.

The committee defines a hip-drop tackle as any tackle where a defender “grabs the runner with both hands or wraps the runner with both arms; and unweights himself by swiveling and dropping his hips and/or lower body, landing on and trapping the runner’s leg(s) at or below the knee.”

The league could introduce a severe punishment for hip-drop tackles, which would result in a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down.

New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson saw his 2023 season ended by a hip-drop tackle in Week 13, while Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews missed seven games after the Cincinnati Bengals’ Logan Wilson used the technique against him in Week 11, fracturing his fibula.

The committee has also proposed allowing reviews if a passer is thought out of bounds or down by contact before throwing, or if the clock is thought to have expired before a snap.

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