The NFL's competition committee has proposed a new rule that would spot a fair catch on a kickoff at the 25-yard line, even if it is made inside of that yardage marker in the field of play.
The proposal was one of eight additional rule-change proposals the committee added to the 15 that teams had proposed earlier this month. It is largely in line with the NFL's efforts to minimize kickoff returns either through incentivizing touchbacks or, now, offering a better spot for a fair catch. NFL health and safety data has noted data for years that indicate certain injuries, especially concussions, occur at higher rates on special teams plays compared to offense or defense. Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations, said Friday that the incentive to get a fair catch on a kickoff marked at the 25-yard-line could reduce the play's injury rate by up to 25%.
The committee also proposed moving the spot of a touchback on a punt from the 20-yard line to the 25, a way to incentivize punt returners to let a ball bounce into the end zone rather than trying to field it for a return first. Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee, said the rule could also incentivize teams to go for it more often on fourth down rather than run the risk of a touchback on a punt that would be marked at the 25.
The committee's list of suggestions was more notable for what it did not include. The committee did not endorse any of the team proposals submitted earlier this month. It also did not propose rules that would either outlaw pushing the quarterback on sneak plays or the hip-drop tackling technique, two issues it had promised to study this offseason. According to Vincent, the hip-drop technique is associated with an injury rate that is 20 times higher than plays without it. Vincent said the league will initiate a discussion with coaches on ways to eliminate it from the game.
Five of the team proposals centered around replay. The Detroit Lions submitted three: One would allow coaches to challenge personal foul penalties, another that would permit replay officials to consult on penalty enforcement, instead of the more limited menu of plays they can currently assist on, and another that would give coaches a third challenge if they win one of their initial two challenges. The current rule requires them to win both in order to get a third.
The Houston Texans added a related proposal that would give the replay official jurisdiction to review failed fourth-down attempts. The final replay-based rule proposal came from the Los Angeles Rams, who want roughing the passer penalties to be reviewable and/or challengeable by coaches.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles have taken another stab at creating an alternative to the onside kick. The Eagles' proposal would allow a team to maintain possession after a score if it converts a fourth-and-20 play from its own 20-yard line immediately afterward. Previous attempts that have prescribed a fourth-and-15 conversion have been voted down by owners.
All these proposals will be on the floor for debate at next week's annual league meeting in Phoenix. Proposals need approval from 24 of the 32 owners to pass.