NFL kickoff rule proposal likely to change before full vote

Well-paid kick returners like Leon Washington could be a thing of the past if the NFL adopts a proposal to change kickoffs. However, that proposal is likely to change after coaches voiced their disapproval.

NFL coaches were decidedly not in favor of the NFL Competition Committee's hotly debated proposal to change the way kickoffs work in the NFL. The proposal would put the ball on the 35-yard line rather than the 30 and touchbacks would move from the 20- to the 25-yard line. The league is scheduled to vote on the kickoff proposal tomorrow; however, the rule they vote on is expected to evolve from the current proposal. 

Patriots coach Bill Belichick weighed in on the matter. "I don't like the idea of eliminating the kickoff from the game. I think it's one of the most exciting plays in football," said Belichick. Of course he wasn't the only coach to express his disapproval. Don Banks reports plenty of other coaches registering their complaints

Owners put the rule change out there on the basis of player safety. I'm sure that is a legitimate concern. However, the cynical side of me wonders if it doesn't at least have something to do with the escalating contracts being handed out to kick returners. Leon Washington got a four-year, $12.5 million deal; Josh Cribbs received a three-year, $20 million deal. 

At any rate, the push back from hyper-competitive coaches may result in a slightly different rule than what was proposed. Don Banks reported this evening that the proposal will be changed, possibly remaining the same, before the full group of owners vote on it tomorrow. 

Changes like this are always subject to the law of unintended consequences. A rule designed for safety could open up more risk. Shortening the field could lead to more injuries. 

The St. Louis Rams are likely to draft a kick returner this year, most likely in the form a smaller, faster running back in the Darren Sproles mode. A rule change probably won't prevent that since they need a player like that more for pairing with Steven Jackson than for kicks. If the rule gets approved as proposed, it could alter their draft board. 

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