NFL league owners vote to adopt an XFL-style kickoff

Ernesto Lacayo kicks off for the 2020 Seattle Dragons.
Ernesto Lacayo kicks off for the 2020 Seattle Dragons.

NFL league owners voted today to adopt a low-impact kickoff, modeled on what has previously been used in the XFL. The league believes this decision will increase the number of returns while decreasing the number of injuries.

The proposal passed by a vote of 29-3. A proposal needs approval by 24 of the 32 owners to pass.

The rule was changed as a one-year trial, which means it will need to be re-approved next year or the league will revert to its previous kickoff rules.

NFL fans will notice major changes immediately, starting with the first play of every game.

During the 2024 season, kickers will continue to kick from the 35-yard line, but the other 10 players on the kickoff team will line up at the receiving team’s 40-yard line. At least nine members of the return team will line up in a “setup zone” between the 35- and 30-yard lines. Up to two returners can line up in a “landing zone” between the goal line and the 20-yard line.

No one other than the kicker and returner(s) can move until the ball hits the ground or hits a player inside the landing zone. Touchbacks will be marked at the 30-yard line, and no fair catches will be allowed. In the event a team wants to attempt an onside kick, it will have to inform officials of its intent and would then be allowed to use the NFL’s traditional formation. No surprise onside kicks will be allowed.

The plan is based on the structure and philosophy of the XFL version, with a small change to how the players are lined up. In the XFL, they lined up farther downfield, between the returning team’s 30- and 35-yard lines.

More than 90% of kickoffs were returned during the XFL’s two seasons. NFL special teams coaches who participated in designing the NFL version of this format are hoping for a return rate of at least 80% in 2024.

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