NFL Competition Committee approves new rule changes for 2024 season - What You Need to Know!

Enhanced Kickoff Regulations Aim to Boost Safety and Strategy in Professional Football
American Football Kicker
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What is the new rule? - How will it look this fall on the Field?

Football Kickoff
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With the new rule, kickoffs will look much different in the NFL beginning this fall. The new format will see the ball kicked from the kicking team's 35-yard line and every player on the field not including the kicker will now line up with one foot on the returning team's 40-yard line. This will give time for the kicker to kick the ball without getting severely hit, limiting the tackles until the ball is put out into play. 

Nine members of the returning team will line up in a “setup zone” between their 30-yard line and 35-yard lines, with up to two returners positioned in the “landing zone” between the goal line and the 20-yard line. 

A key part of this new rule is that no players apart from the kicker and returners can move until the ball is fielded. Any kick caught or landing in the landing zone must be returned. If a kick falls short of the landing zone, it will be ruled a touchback and spotted at the 40-yard line. If the ball reaches the end zone, it must be returned or downed, depending on the touchback rules on where it’s downed. 

Why did the NFL transition to this new rule?

The NFL is widely considered to be one of the most dangerous sports in the world with players severely getting hit in the head, body, and leg, the NFL committee made a smart move to keep the player's safety and health safe with this new rule in place. 

This new rule ensures the protection of the receivers in special teams who suffered high-speed collisions this past year and the controversial hip drop tackle in several games last season. 

Responding to the lowest kickoff return rates in NFL history and concerns for player safety, the Competition Committee proposed a radical alternative kickoff rule. 

Traditionally, teams had the option to return kickoffs, aiming to gain an advantageous field position. But, now with the recent rule change, automatic touchbacks for kicks landing in the endzone which was a rule implemented in 2018 have diminished the incentive for returns.

Impact on the Game

NFL
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The new format is expected to reintroduce the kickoff return as a critical and thrilling component of the game. By forcing returns and adjusting to touchback yards, the NFL aims to strike a balance between excitement and safety. There’s been several rule changes in the last few years including a defensive player not being allowed to make illegal contact with the quarterback after the pass has been thrown. This is considered roughing the passer and is a foul, giving more yards to the team on offense. The league hopes to see a reduction in high-speed collisions, which have been a significant source of injuries happening before the rule change. 

Commissioner Goodell’s Vision

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
NFL Commissioner Roger GoodellShutterstock

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed optimism about the new rule, highlighting its potential to make kickoffs both safer and engaging. 

“I think it will be a big improvement,” Goodell stated. “It will bring the kick return back into a relevant play, an important play, and an exciting play, while hopefully reducing the injury rate.”

Roger Goodell

How teams and kickers will adjust to the rule change?

Harrison Butker
Harrison ButkerShutterstock

The Kansas City Chiefs, back-to-back defending champions will face a new challenge like all NFL teams with the kickoff rule changes. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub is in charge of adapting these significant adjustments, ensuring that the Chiefs remain the best team in the league. 

One significant adjustment for the Chiefs and Toub involves utilizing players like safety Justin Reid and rugby star-turned-running back Louis Rees-Zammit in kickoff rules. While Kicker Harrison Butker remains the primary option for the team, Toub is preparing Reid and Rees-Zammit to step in when necessary, given their ability to cover the field and make tackles - a skill set less common in traditional kickers. 

Harrison Butker’s Adaptation

Harrison Butker
Harrison ButkerShutterstock

Harrison Butker, known for his powerful and accurate kicks, will need to adjust his approach under the new rules. Historically, Butker has excelled at kicking touchbacks, a strategy that minimized return opportunities and reduced the risk of big plays by the opposing team. 

Even though Butker is known to be a great kicker and the number one option, Toub is heavily considering having him sit out and bringing in Reid to ensure Butker’s safety out on the field.

“Butker can make a tackle but I really don’t want him making tackles all year long,” Toub said. “We don’t want Butker in that situation, but he will be a kicker, he’ll be a guy that we will use in certain situations.”

Dave Toub

What role can Louis Reese-Zammit and Justin Reid bring?

Jutsin Reid making a tackle
Justin Reid making a tackleShutterstock

Louis Rees-Zammit, with his rugby background, brings a unique skill set to the Chiefs' special teams. His ability to run, tackle, and kick makes him an ideal candidate for kickoff duties under the new rules. With the Chiefs integrating Reese-Zammit into the kickoff team, the Chiefs can leverage his versatility to create mismatches and enhance their kickoff coverage. 

Similarly, Justin Reid’s dual capability as a safety and a potential kicker provides an additional layer of athleticism for the Chiefs. Reid can kick off and immediately transition into a defensive role, making him a valuable asset in situations where the Chiefs anticipate a return. 

“Justin can kick and he can also go down there and make tackles,” Toub said. “He’s an extra guy they are not accounting for. They know that he can go and make a tackle but Justin is a guy they have to worry about.”

Dave Toub

A New Chapter for the NFL

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FootballShutterstock

Adapting to the NFL’s new kickoff will be a complex process for all 32 teams in the league, but the right adjustments and the right players on each team should help players and teams cope with the new rule. This change promises to bring back the excitement of kick returns, providing fans with more edge-of-the-seat moments and players in a safer playing environment. As the season begins, all eyes will be on how this new rule transforms the game, blending tradition with innovation in the ever-evolving landscape of professional football.

For more in-depth news and updates in sports, please visit the Sports and Entertainment Section.

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