NEW ORLEANS (KDKA/AP) On Tuesday, the NFL owners voted on the proposals from the leagues’ competition committee to change the kickoff and increase the use of the instant replay.
Next season, the NFL will move kickoffs up five yards to the 35-yard line, keep touchbacks coming out to the 20 and allow the number of players in a blocking wedge to remain at two.
The owners also voted to limit players on kickoff coverage to line up no more than five yards behind the new 35-yard line.
Another proposed change that was voted down by the owners was to place touchbacks on the 25-yard line.
Several coaches expressed concern about making too many changes to kickoffs, also saying bringing touchbacks out five more yards would affect field position too much.
Team owners also voted Tuesday to make all scoring plays reviewable by the replay official and referee. But they tabled a proposal to ban players launching themselves to make a tackle, and will reconsider it in May.
Making kickoffs safer was the objective, and several coaches believes the owners met it, voting 26-6 for the new rule.
On touchbacks, competition committee chairman Rich McKay said coaches were concerned about an increase in high kicks from the 35 intended to trap returning teams deep and severely decreasing the number of returns. He also said the two-man wedge was not a driving force in the uptick in injuries on kickoffs. Indeed, more injuries occur in coverage than on the return squads.
As for the six no votes, McKay said: “The objections were, ‘Hey, you’re affecting my team.’ Clearly, some teams have good kick returners and they said, ‘What if there’s 10 percent less returns?’
“We have no answer,” McKay added, “but player safety will always trump any other consideration.”
The replay change passed 30-2, with one modification: The third coach’s challenge that the competition committee suggested dropping will be kept.
The replay official now can call for the referee to review any scoring play. Previously, replay officials only could order reviews (on any play) in the final two minutes of each half and in overtime.
Coaches pushed for the change in great part because they felt they didn’t get a fair shake in road games.
“It’s a real big competitive disadvantage,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You don’t get that look at it on the road that you get at home; they just don’t show it.”