During this week’s spring meeting in Minneapolis, NFL owners have approved a series of changes that are set to come into effect beginning in the 2023 season. Monday saw the league endorse an emergency third quarterback and flex “Thursday Night Football” scheduling.
Tuesday saw a key modification to special teams, according to several reports.
NFL owners approved the resolution putting the ball on the 25-yard line following a fair catch on a kickoff, I’m told.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 23, 2023
Special teams coordinators unanimously opposed the change, but it’s happening.
On a one-year trial basis beginning in 2023, any fair catch made behind the receiving team’s 25-yard line on a kickoff will result in the ball being placed at the receiving team’s 25-yard line. According to Pro Football Focus, 2022 saw no regular-season fair catches on kickoffs; that will undoubtedly change in 2023.
Here is the official language:
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero mentioned that many special teams coordinators unanimously opposed the change. That means it includes Chiefs coordinator Dave Toub, who has coached the third phase in some capacity since 2001.
Over the years, Toub has shown a tendency to allow his kickoff returners to remain aggressive if they feel they have a window to put the offense in a better position, a mentality that has made sense considering the talent of Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and most recently, Isiah Pacheco. This shift will factor into that mentality, given that now the risk of losing precious yardage could be even greater.
Speaking on the new fair catch rule, NFL exec Jeff Miller cites higher concussion rates on kickoffs and punts relative to other plays and says unprompted: “There may be more to come.”— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 23, 2023
Modeling says return rate will drop from 38% to 31% and concussion rate drop 15%, Miller says.
A day after approving the start of flex “Thursday Night Football,” the owners cite “player safety” for this rule change — which makes the entire announcement somewhat laughable. It’s growing more difficult to miss that player safety seems to be a selective priority for the league’s top decision-makers.
Update: Chiefs punter Tommy Townsend weighs in
Not good for football for many reasons… but let’s pass something that players and coaches are so clearly against https://t.co/XZxlUNllNC— Tommy Townsend (@tommy_townsend) May 23, 2023
The 2022 first-team All-Pro does not appear to be a fan of the change.