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NFL approve rule change as kick-off return edges closer to extinction
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Harrison Butker kicking off Super Bowl LVII
Harrison Butker kicking off Super Bowl LVII

The kick-off return is moving closer and closer towards extinction.

The NFL owners approved a rule on Tuesday that allows teams receiving a free kick (kick-off or safety kick) to get the ball at their own 25-yard line if the team calls for a fair catch anywhere behind their own 25.

The rule has been put in place for just the 2023 season and will be revisited next offseason.

The intention behind the new rule stems from player safety with concussion rates on kick-offs will be reduced by 15 per cent, according to NFL executive Jeff Miller.

Kick-offs are considered the most dangerous play in the NFL as data shows concussions occurs more than twice as often on them than on plays from scrimmages.

While the new rule should help with head injuries, it also takes away an exciting part of the game. 

Under the new rule, models suggest that the kick-off return rate will decrease from 38% to 31%.

There will almost certainly be a backlash among players and coaches as the new rule will likely bring about more squib kicks and other unreturnable kicks.

This is the second major rule change made to kick-offs in the last decade with the backdrop of player safety in mind.

In 2016, the NFL moved touchbacks on kick-offs up to the 25-yard line from the 20, with the rationale teams will take the ball five yards closer to their own end zone rather than risk getting tackled behind the 25. 

And fewer returns would also likely mean fewer injuries.

The rule change, however, has taken the ball out of the hands out of kick-off returners and decreased the likelihood of an exciting return.

There were only nine kick-off returns for touchdowns last season – the fewest in a non-strike season since the 1970 merger.

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