The No Fun League Strikes Again

Anyone new to American sports would think that football was a relatively new sport created in the 1980’s.  With all the recent implementation of new rules and changes to existing ones, one would never believe the sport has been around since 1879.

First the infamous “Tuck Rule” in 2002 thanks to my favorite ponytail wearing quarterback. Then came the changes to the overtime rules after old man Favre suffered a dreadful NFC Championship game loss in overtime.

As if the current news regarding the NFL couldn’t be annoying enough, today’s biggest story aside from Bill Belichick sleeping through breakfast involved yet another rule change.

Jason La Canfora of NFL.com reports:
“NFL kickoffs will take place at the 35-yard line -- not the 30 -- under a modified kickoff proposal passed by the league's owners at the NFL Annual Meeting on Tuesday, according to a league source. The proposal keeps touchbacks at the 20 and continues to allow the two-man blocking wedge.”

Saying that Devin Hester should be on suicide watch may be a little bit extreme, but this rule change most definitely has an effect on an important aspect of the game.

Fans can definitely expect to see a lot more touchbacks than previously.  In 2010, 927 kicks landed in the end zone or farther.  509 of them were returned, and 416 were touchbacks.  There’s no question that with the implementation of the new rules, the percentage of touchbacks will increase greatly giving kickers the advantage, and will take away the threat from kick return specialists.

In 2010, players like Josh Cribbs, DeSean Jackson, Leon Washington, Brad Smith racked up 23 touchdowns all from kick returns.  It’s one of the most exciting yet overlooked parts of the game.

What Jets fan didn’t love shouting “Leee-onnnn” at every kick-off?  Or used to sit at the edge of their seat waiting for Chad Morton to return yet another one in the end zone?

Let’s face it, a kick-off return for a touchdown can sometimes be the most memorable play of a game. 

Last year, kickers like Sebastian Janikowski would routinely kick the ball one to two yards into the endzone with a good possibility of it being returned. 

Ed Hochuli will be swinging his arms at his sides a plenty this year because that same kick will be six to seven yards deep with players kneeling in the end zone for yet another touchback.  

Excuse me while I yawn.

The fact is players get paid millions because they are most dangerous at returning kick-offs and getting great field position for their team. 

Leon Washington should be thanking his lucky stars he signed his new contract or else he’d be seeing his value drop like Darren Sproles and Brad Smith are as we speak. It’s even safe to say that players may no longer be drafted purely because of their great return abilities.

So who benefits?

Aging kickers like Ryan Longwell and Adam Vinatieri do.  These guys have accuracy and no longer have to worry about losing some leg strength.  A kicker’s accuracy will be valued more than a big leg. 

Of course as I type I have to think about Nick Folk.  I don’t consider him a big-legged kicker or a very accurate one.  In fact he’s really just a pain in my…….I digress.

I expect to see teams treat kick-offs like punts.  Special teams coaches will use sky kicks and emphasize hang-time.  Kickers will get air under the ball for a 5 second hang time, let the coverage team get under it and force the returner to call a fair catch inside his own 10 yard line……..or else he’ll get killed.  

No fun for Brad Smith and when you think about it even less fun for players like Lance Laury, Jamaal Westermann and John Conner who are dying to get their hands on the little fast men.  They can’t even line up at the 20 yard line anymore and only have five yards from the kick off to get a running start.

Aside from the Rutgers tragedy, I personally can only recall news of two concussions suffered last year during kick-off returns.

I’m all for the NFL Competition Committee implementing rules that will increase players’ safety, but this newest rule could potentially effect an entire phase of a team’s offense.   

When the league implemented increased fines and punishment for “big hits” they weren’t necessarily changing the game, but rather sending a message to the players.  In the end, the players could still play the game the way they always have.

The new kick-off rules are different in that they actually change how the game is played, no matter how slightly.

My new optimistic side says hey….it’s better than having them take away kick-offs completely.

Vikings, Packers and Lions fans will sleep better tonight. 

Who knows?  Maybe now my nightmares of there ever being another Ted Ginn Jr in the AFC East will finally end too.