A proposed rule change that NFL owners could vote to approve during their (virtual) league meeting on May 28 has attracted the attention of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Asked about the proposed onside-kick alternative rule change on Friday, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said that he can see how the rule change could make the game more exciting — but he’s an old guy, too.
“I don’t know if it will pass or not,” he told reporters. “I know the special-teams coaches aren’t real big on that. It takes away — obviously — one of the elements of theirs. It’s also the kickoff — which has been under scrutiny here — and kickoff returns.
“[Keeping] the integrity of the game... you like that part of it,” Reid continued. “On the other hand, if it does pass, we’ve got a guy who can do fourth-and-15s; he’d give us the opportunity to do that. So I’ve got kind of mixed thoughts on it. Being an old guy, I’d probably stick with the integrity of the game as it sits right now — but I could also see where the other part could be exciting, too.”
Across the league, most will remember Mahomes’ fourth-and-9 pass to Tyreek Hill against the Baltimore Ravens in 2018 that kept a game-tying drive alive — or more recently (and famously), the 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp play-call on third-and-15 in Super Bowl LIV, which sparked the Chiefs’ comeback from a 20-10 fourth-quarter deficit to a 31-20 victory.
But as our Ethan Douglas noted in late December, success in these kinds of plays is simply routine for Mahomes. When Expected Points Added (EPA) are calculated for all third and fourth-down plays of 18 yards or more from 2009 through 2019, Mahomes is head and shoulders above everyone else.
The whole point of the proposed rule is to give teams better options to mount a comeback — that is, to reduce the chance of an unexciting blowout. When the league modified kickoff rules to reduce the chance of injury — which did exactly what they were supposed to do — the changes also made it nearly impossible to stage a successful onside kick.
As has often happened, the proposed change has its roots in a rule from a competing league. The AAF had a rule that gave teams a chance to retain possession with a fourth-and-12 play from its own 28-yard line — but only if it was behind by at least 17 or trailing by any amount with less than five minutes remaining in the game.
But according to the text of the rule change as released by the NFL on Thursday, the NFL’s proposed alternative kickoff option could be used at any time; there is no language stating that the team must be trailing. The only limitation is that a team may attempt it only twice in a game. There has been some confusion on this aspect of the proposed rule — as our Pete Sweeney explained on Friday morning.
There has been a little confusion with the Philadelphia Eagles’ rule proposal.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) May 22, 2020
The fourth-and-15 onside kick alternative would NOT require a team to be trailing. I confirmed this with the league this morning. pic.twitter.com/ockIGEIw2D
So with what we might call the Mahomes Clause, the proposed rule could be used in different ways. Suppose your team has just scored — and is trailing 14-7 with 1:50 left in the second quarter. Your opponent has the second-half kickoff, so giving them the opportunity to make a quick score before halftime and get the ball to start the second half isn’t attractive. If you have
an elite quarterback Patrick Mahomes — or a play-call that you believe will catch your opponent off-guard in a fourth-and 15 situation — your might take the gamble... much as you once might have chosen that moment to attempt a surprise onside kick.