April 17, 2024

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NFL passes new kickoff rules, adopts XFL version of the play

NFL passes new kickoff rules, adopts XFL version of the play

ORLANDO — By a vote of 29-3, NFL owners approved major changes to the kickoff rules for the 2024 season, adopting a version of the play the XFL has used in recent years.

Under the new rules, the kicker will continue to kick from the 35-yard line, while the other 10 members of the kicking team will line up at the receiving team's 40-yard line. The receiving team will place at least nine players in the set-up zone between the 30 and 35 yard line, with one or two returners in the “down zone” between the goal line and the 20-yard line. Until the ball hits the ground or a player, no one other than the kicker or rebounder is allowed to move.

The change, approved on a trial basis for 2024, comes after years of debate over the future of kickoffs, as the NFL sought to reduce injury rates from plays and for more teams to kick the ball out of the end zone. Only 21.7% of kickoffs were returned in 2023, the lowest rate in league history. With the new play, return rates could reach 80-90%, Competition Commission Chairman Rich MacKay said Tuesday.

Teams are allowed to take two onside kicks per game, but will not be able to take two surprise kicks. Touchdowns will move from the 25-yard line to the 30-yard line, though McKay said the rule could eventually change to put the ball at the 35-yard line after a touchback.

Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, who worked closely with Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel on the rule change, called it “a great day for the NFL.”

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“We took a play that had basically been dying over the last few years and, in our opinion, revived it,” he said. “The fact that we felt we could make this game safer, and certainly more exciting for everyone, were the two main factors.”

The owners voted to eliminate the hip drop tackle earlier in the week, and the NFL announced Tuesday that the owners also voted to postpone the trade deadline by a week. It will be on November 5 this year, instead of October 29.

Additionally, teams can now receive the third challenge in the game by winning only one of the first two challenges (previous rules required teams to win both challenges to receive the third challenge). The NFL will also make a ruling on whether a passer is down by contact or out of bounds before the ball is thrown on a reviewable play, allow replay reviews of the game clock that expires before the snap and allow teams to promote an emergency quarterback from the practice squad, rather than mandating Teams need to carry a third quarterback on the active roster.