The NFL is determined to make player safety a top priority. Over the past couple of years, in particular, it has established new guidelines that have been designed to reduce concussions, such as a new helmet rule, and make overall play a little less aggressive. Most of the rule changes find mixed opinions when first introduced, but the league continues to plug away at its master plan. After having already made changes to kickoffs ahead of last season, the NFL is going to try something different with onside kicks rules at the upcoming Pro Bowl game. However, just like the other changes, this one is meeting resistance.
The NFL wanted to introduce changes to the onside kick rules before last season, based on a suggestion by the Denver Broncos, but team owners axed those plans. In trying to assert pressure on the owners, the league is going to run a test that involves scoring and an onside kick, hoping that the experiment will appease the owners and players.
What Are The New Pro Bowl Rules?
The Pro Bowl never sees a kickoff – the game isn’t important enough to take the risk of a player getting injured. However, the NFL will include two scoring options that it hopes will offset the void. The first will allow a scoring team to turn the ball over to the opposition, which will then be able to start its offensive possession from its own 25-yard line. The second option, which is new for the upcoming game, is an alternative to the onside kick. If chosen, the scoring team will be able to keep the ball and run one more play from its 25-yard line.
If that play is successful and the team picks up 15 yards or more, the team keeps possession. If it fails in its attempt, the other team will take over on offense where the play was called dead. To put it in simpler terms, the extra play is essentially a free fourth-and-15 situation.
The NFL changed the onside kick rule in 2018, making it illegal for the kicking team to get a running start before the ball left the tee. Since then, offensive onside kick recoveries plummeted from an average of 21% across all seasons to a low of 7.7% in 2018. During this most recent season, as teams adjusted their strategies, the number climbed to 12.9%.
It isn’t clear what the league hopes to achieve by updating the onside kick rules once again – it might be simply to keep the percentage of successful recoveries from continuing to climb. When the Broncos presented their plan for a similar tactic last year, owners couldn’t wrap their heads around it long enough to understand its main purpose, either.
However, the fact that the Pro Bowl will see the new play rules introduced means that the league is, on some level, considering making it part of the action. Whether or not it is received well enough with visual cues to guide owners, coaches and players, however, is a different story.
As well as the rules changes, the Pro Bowl is also going to see a little bit of a change in officiating, but this, too, is going to be controversial. In the past, a false start, especially against wide receivers, has been called if the player flexes from the line of scrimmage. For the upcoming game, however, receivers will be allowed to flex and can even lift a foot off the ground – something that would never be allowed previously. As long as the receiver is able to get back into position, with both feet touching the turf, within one second (or he keeps one foot on the ground), he won’t be called for a false start.