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NFL Approves Modified Kickoff Rules for 2024 Season

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The D.C. Defenders, right, line up against the Seattle Dragons for the opening kickoff of the opening football game of the XFL season, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Washington, DC. The NFL is implementing the XFL kickoff rules for the 2024 NFL season. (AP Photo/Stephen Whyno)

NFL owners voted to drastically modify the way kickoffs will be handled this coming season. The proposal to switch to the XFL’s kickoff model was approved at the Annual League Meeting, reportedly by a vote of 29-3. The Packers, Raiders, and 49ers were the three teams opposing the rule change. It was approved on a one-year trial basis, so this will be revisited a year from now.

A look at what the new rule will entail, courtesy of NFL Operations. Terminology like “set up zone” and “landing zone” will soon be part of the NFL viewing experience.

Alignment

All kicking team players other than the kicker will line up with one foot on the receiving team’s 40-yard line.

The kicker cannot cross the 50-yard line until the ball touches the ground or a player in the landing zone or end zone.

The 10 kicking team players cannot move until the ball hits the ground or a player in the landing zone or the end zone.

Receiving team will line up as follows:

Setup Zone – a 5-yard area from the 35-to-30 yard lines where at least 9 receiving team players must line up.

At least 7 players with a foot on the 35 yard line (restraining line) with alignment requirements (outside numbers, numbers to hashes, and inside hashes).

Players not on the restraining line must be lined up in the setup zone outside the hash marks.

All players in the setup zone cannot move until the kick has hit the ground or a player in the landing zone or the end zone.

A maximum of 2 returners may line up in the landing zone and can move at any time prior to, or during, the kick.

Landing Zone

The landing zone is the area between the receiving team’s goal line and its 20-yard line.

Any kick that hits short of the landing zone is treated like kickoff out of bounds. The ball is spotted at 40-yard line. Play would be blown dead as soon as the kick lands short of the landing zone.

Any kick that hits in the landing zone must be returned.

Any kick that hits in the landing zone and then goes into the end zone must be returned or downed by the receiving team. If downed then touchback to the 20-yard line.

Kick hits in the end zone, stays inbounds, is returned or downed. If downed then touchback to 35-yard line.

Any kick that goes out of the back of the end zone (in the air or bounces) is a touchback to 35-yard line.

Miscellaneous

No fair catch or signal is allowed. Officials will blow the play dead.

If conditions cause the ball to fall off the tee twice, the kicker will be allowed to use a kicking stick to keep the ball in place. The closest covering official will pick up the stick immediately after the kick.

Onside kick:

After 4th quarter begins, the team trailing has the opportunity to declare an onside kick to the officials.

Current onside kickoff rules would apply. If an onside kick goes beyond the setup zone untouched, the kicking team is penalized for UNS. The return team would start the drive at the opponent’s 20-yard line.

Penalties:

The setup zone and landing zone will not change with any penalties that carry over to kickoffs. The alignment of 10 kickoff team players and all receiving team players would not change. Only the spot of the kick would move.

Penalties on scoring plays will not carry over and will be taken on the Try (extra point).

Penalties on the Try may carry over, and if they do, only the placement of the kicker will change.

Safety Kick:

The kick will be from the 20-yard line, and the kicker will have the option to use a tee. The setup zone and the landing zone will not change

Approved Rulings: The special teams working group will continue to work with the Officiating department to examine any necessary approved rulings and/or additional language that may be necessary to support this new rule. This language will be vetted with the clubs, circulated for comment to all the clubs, and finalized by the May meeting for the membership.

What Will it Look Like

The NFL got to a point where a kickoff was regularly a touchback. The league wanted to increase the percentage of kickoffs that were returned. Previous rules enacted decreased the number of kickoff returns. The play has been deemed too dangerous. This new rule is being auditioned in 2024 to see if it can find a balance between increasing returns while not increasing injuries. A glimpse of what things will look like this season,

Award-winning blogger, Dan's work has also been featured on Fox Sports, Boston Metro, Barstool Sports, MLB.com, and many other outlets.

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