Eighteen years after the NFL moved kickoffs back five yards to help boost scoring, the league is officially going back to the original format. And although it appears this measure was taken strictly for the purpose of curbing injuries and violent special-teams collisions, it will undoubtedly hurt offenses and help defenses.
But what about the ancillary effects of such changes? How else might these seemingly minor “tweaks” alter the game?
1. Onside kicks could be less effective. As we mentioned earlier, coverage units will now be limited to a mere five-yard head start on kickoffs (as opposed to 10-15 yards). This will force some teams to alter their approach to onside kicks. While some have their coverage units line up within five yards of the kicker in situations like these, others have the players take off from as far back as the 20-yard line. They’ll no longer have that luxury.
2. Longer careers for kickers. This is simply because we’ll likely have more kickers. With the a new collective bargaining agreement expected to include at least one extra roster spot for each team, this rule could compel more squads to follow after the Cowboys et al by employing kickoff specialists. In the last two decades, veteran kickers were often squeezed out of the game because they no longer had the leg to go deep. That might not matter so much anymore. Someone tell Morten Andersen.
3. Less money for return specialists. While kickoff specialists will presumably be in higher demand, return men who can’t offer much else could end up losing value. With fewer opportunities to return kicks, players like Leon Washington simply won’t have as many chances to shine.