NFL owners approve sweeping changes to kickoffs for 2024

NFL ball

NFL owners approved an overhaul of kickoffs at the league’s Annual Meeting on Tuesday, with new alignments for kicking and receiving teams being introduced to improve return rates and cut down on head injuries.

The new hybrid kickoff model – which closely resembles the format used by the XFL between 2020 and 2023 – will be introduced for one year only on a trial basis.

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

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Kickers will continue to kick from their 35-yard line, with the rest of their team-mates lining up at the receiving team’s 40-yard line. Two receiving players will be stationed in the landing zone, with the remainder starting in a ‘set-up zone’ between their own 35 and 30 markers.

The kicker will not be able to cross the 50-yard line once the kickoff has been taken, with his team-mates unable to move until the ball hits the landing zone, the end zone or a receiving player.

All kickoffs that hit the landing zone will have to be returned to cut down on touchbacks, which will see the ball spotted at the 35-yard line, rather than the 25, when they do occur.

Return rates dropped to a record low of 21.7% in 2023, while concussion rates have remained relatively constant despite the league making other changes to kickoffs to prevent injuries in recent years, including implementing the fair catch rule and moving the kicker’s position forward.

Another consequence of the rule change will be to outlaw surprise onside kick attempts, with the tactic now only permitted when a trailing team declares their intent from the fourth quarter onwards.

On Monday, team owners also gave the green light to three other rule changes, with the most high-profile being a ban on the controversial “hip-drop” tackle technique.

In further alterations, teams will receive a third challenge following one successful challenge, while a major foul by the offense will be enforced before a change of possession in situations where both teams commit fouls.

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