Five measly yards.
That’s all it takes to lower a man’s paycheck. Coincidentally, that’s also the safe distance between Dez Bryant and his friends with the droopy pants.
When the NFL passed new rules Tuesday mandating that kickoffs take place on the 35-yard line instead of the 30 in an effort to increase player safety, the uproar from the kick return specialist community was quick. Of course, the assumption is that giving a kicker those five extra yards will result in more balls booted at that overweight man with the flamboyantly painted beer belly in the front row behind the endzone. Consequently, the increase in touchbacks could hit the Josh Cribbs’ and Devin Hester’s of the world who primarily make their living returning kicks in the pocket.
Time will tell whether or not the second part of that equation becomes a reality. But although we’ll certainly see more touchbacks, we’re probably going a little overboard here losing beauty sleep over an estimated 5-to-15 percent increase. Think of the time we’re wasting on this topic when we could be writing another lockout post.
But maybe we won’t even get to that minimal increase, because kickoffs will become an even greater tool in the constant strategizing to win the field position battle. It may be just five measly yards, but as ESPN’s Rick Reilly noted this morning during a radio appearance with Colin Cowherd, that short distance gives kickers the opportunity to increase the height of their kick and lob the ball high into the air.
This means kickoffs would be treated the same as punts that aim to pin the opposition inside their own 10-yard line. Instead of pounding the ball deep and conceding the 20 yards, a higher trajectory makes the returner wait, and gives those menacing third string linebackers on the cover team more time to close the gap during their 70-yard sprint down the field.
Would this be an exact science? Absolutely not, but neither is the punt that aims for the corner. If a special teams coach is confident in his kicker’s abilities and the speed of his cover team, there’s little reason to just blast one at the uprights and tell the offence that you’ll meet them at the 20-yard line.
Maybe a lob-ball style kickoff is only the difference between making the offence start at the 15-yard line as opposed to the 20. But as we’ve seen, those five measly yards are pretty important.
The worst part of this scenario for the NFL? Big men running faster over a short distance doesn’t exactly do much for player safety.