As soon as the NFL announced the new rule change for kickoffs a debate was sparked and almost instantly it seemed a general consensus was reached among most players, coaches and fans. That consensus was one of confusion and disappointment.
Earlier this week the NFL announced that they would be moving the spot of the kickoff up five-yards from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line, which will allow just about every kicker to boot the kickoff deep enough to all but eliminate kickoff returns from the game.
The league’s reasoning? For safety reasons and the health of the players of course and yes it’s impossible not to see the hypocrisy in this disingenuous explanation.
It’s not to say that the health and safety of the players isn’t the actual intention for the rule change (after all it kind of has to be the only reason right? What other reason would make any sense?), but it kind of feels like deciding to take money away from teachers to fix ever inflating budget problems.
It would sure seem to most that there are far more glaring problems that need to be fixed when dealing with players’ health, like making sure retired players have proper health insurance coverage for one.
The problem with the league’s explanation about this rule change being to protect the safety of the players is the fact that they obviously overlooked the very real possibility of some kickoffs becoming more dangerous.
Yes there will without a doubt be more touchbacks, which obviously eliminates risk, but anyone who thinks all teams will just line up and keep booming kicks out of the back of the end zone are clearly kidding themselves.
This is football, coaches in football look for every advantage possible, especially on special teams, and they will certainly try to exploit this rule change to their benefit. You can be sure there will be plenty of teams launching kicks as high in the air as possible with the hope that the extra five yards will allow their kick coverage team to reach the return man at the same time as the ball, potentially opening players up to much more dangerous hits.
Like with most things in life the effects of this rule change reach far greater lengths than most people will realize. Strategies will change and some teams will be at a far worse competitive disadvantage because of the rule change. Is there anyone out there who thinks this does anything but hurt teams like the Bears and Jets?
But what about the players who will be directly personally effected from this rule change?
Devin Hester was arguably the Bears most dangerous weapon and now his potential impact has been severely limited. Not only does that hurt the Bears, but what happens to Hester in a couple of seasons if he can’t be productive returning kicks? You think the Bears will keep him on their roster with his current salary if he can’t do what they paid him for?
The Jets are always among the best special teams units in the league, primarily because of special teams coach Mike Westhoff. Now one is left to wonder just how much the new rule change takes away from one of the Jets biggest strengths. Think of how many times the Jets have had scoring drives because they were working with a short field due to a long kick return, that’s a big part of the Jets game and now that strength could very well be rendered worthless. Would the Jets have been able to beat the Colts in the playoffs last season without that late kick return to set up the game-winning drive?
Much like Hester, the football Swiss Army Knife known as Brad Smith will also be personally affected by this rule change, not just by his production on the field, but also in his bank account. With Smith looking for a new contract, his value just took a big hit. If kick returns aren’t going to stay a big part of the game then teams will be left to guess how much value he can bring to them in the ‘Wildcat.’
“It’s just a thing that’s taking away the ball from us, to get us the chance to make plays on special teams, which is a huge part of the game.” Smith told SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Radio. “Maybe they know something I don’t. Maybe they have a plan for it. And I’m sure Mike Westhoff has drawn up things already for us … It just really changes the whole dynamic of a game, one of the most important plays in football. So there’s going to be a lot of coaches that spend a lot of time trying to figure it out.”
These new rules will alter the way the entire game is played and will have a direct impact on the value of many players. Kick returns are one of the best and easiest ways for young guys to prove themselves as a productive NFL player, special teams used to act as a sort of entry-level position for many young players, now coaches aren’t going to have any idea how to properly identify the value in these players until they finally get a feel for how this rule will play out.
There are many reasons why players and coaches tend not to like the rule, but for fans it’s mostly about the fact that it appears the NFL is trying to eliminate one of the most exciting plays in all of sports.
With the fines for subjective, “excessive hits,” flags for celebrations and now a rule that seems to be designed to eliminate kick returns, it is starting to seem to many that the NFL is doing the best they can to take away as much excitement from the game as possible.
But the rule passed and assuming football is played again, the rule will be implemented immediately and teams and specific players will just have to adjust.
And like it or not, you fans will have to adjust as well. After all if the lockout has taught us anything it’s that the opinion of the fans means absolutely nothing.
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