NFL Owners Approve New Kickoff Rule

Following three days of deliberations at the league’s yearly gathering, NFL owners greenlit a substantial overhaul of the kickoff play on Tuesday. The adopted format — which draws inspiration from the XFL — garnered approval with a vote of 29-3, as confirmed by NFL competition chairman Rich McKay on Tuesday. Approval by at least 24 out of the 32 owners was required for the proposal to pass.

“We feel this is a great day for the NFL,” New Orleans Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, who worked closely on the proposal, said Tuesday. “We’ve taken a play that’s essentially been dying over the course of the last few years in our opinion, and we revived it.”

These fresh alignment regulations mark a watershed moment in NFL rule adjustments, signifying a concerted effort to counteract over a decade of diminishing return rates and reduce concussion incidents. Essentially, the revamped format aims to shift the bulk of kicking and return teams further downfield — limiting high-speed collisions. Set to be implemented for a single year initially, the new rules anticipate potential adjustments and refinements in the future.

For the duration of the 2024 season, kickers will maintain their position at the 35-yard line for kickoffs, while the remaining ten players of the kicking team will align themselves at the receiving team’s 40-yard line. Meanwhile, a minimum of nine members from the return team will occupy a designated “setup zone” between the 35- and 30-yard lines, with the option for up to two returners to position themselves in a “landing zone” spanning from the goal line to the 20-yard line.

Movement is restricted for all players except the kicker and returner(s) until the ball makes contact with the ground or a player within the landing zone. Touchbacks will be designated at the 30-yard line, and fair catches are prohibited. In the event of an onside kick attempt, the kicking team must notify officials of their intention and can then employ the traditional NFL formation. Surprise onside kicks will not be permitted under these regulations.

“We’re in the business of creating an entertaining product and putting a product on the field that should be competitive in every moment. And we had created a play that was no longer competitive, and our [goal was] to try to find a way to make that play competitive. And this was, in our opinion, our best option. … Yes, it’s a big change, but the time has come to make that change.”