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NFL Approves New Kickoff Rule

NFL owners approve a retool of the kickoff rule on Tuesday


During discussions at the league's annual meeting, the NFL owners approved a restructure of the kickoff rule on Tuesday. The revamped format is geared towards lowering concussion rates, marking the most significant rule shift in the NFL over the last decade. It will go into effect for one year on a trial basis and essentially, the kicking and return units will move downfield in the revitalized rule to minimize collisions. The plan will need to be re-approved next year, or the NFL will revert to the previous kickoff rules.

"I'm looking forward to having it back in the game," said Buccaneers' General Manager Jason Licht. "It's going to be interesting how that looks. Nobody really knows exactly how that's going to look, but it will be interesting to have a play that kind of matters back in the game."

During the 2024 season, kickers will continue to kick from the 35-yard line, but the other 10 players on the kickoff unit will line up at the receiving team's 40-yard line. At least nine members of the return team will line up in a 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 players besides the kicker and returner (s) can move until the ball hits the ground or hits a player inside the landing zone. Under the new rule, players will not be going full speed when they crash into one another, which has generated a plethora of injuries in the past and a decrease in returns. In addition, no fair catches will be allowed under the iteration. The proposal follows the structure of the XFL version with a slight shift in where the players are aligned. NFL special teams coaches who participated in designing the NFL version of this format are hoping for an increased return rate in 2024.

The Special Teams group proposed the following ideas as an alternative to the current kickoff play:

  • The ball is kicked from the A35 yard line (same as current rule)
  • Safety kicks would be from A20 yard line (same as current rule)


  • All kicking team players other than the kicker will line up with one foot on the receiving team's B40 yard line
  • Kicker cannot cross the 50-yard line until ball touches the ground or player in landing zone or end zone
  • The 10 kicking team players cannot move until the ball hits the ground or player in the landing zone or the end zone
  • The receiving team will line up as follows:
  • Setup Zone – a 5-yard area from the B35 to the B30 yard line where at least 9 receiving team players must line up
  • At least 7 players with foot on the B35 yard line (restraining line) with alignment requirements (outside numbers, numbers to hashes, and inside hashes)
  • Players not on the restraining line must be lined up in setup zone outside the hash marks
  • All players in the setup zone cannot move until the kick has hit the ground or a player in the landing zone or the end zone
  • A maximum of 2 returners may line up in the landing zone and can move at any time prior to, or during, the kick


  • Landing zone is the area between the receiving team's goal line and its 20-yard line.
  • Any kick that hits short of the landing zone – treated like kickoff out of bounds and ball spotted at B40 yard line; play would be blown dead as soon as kick lands short of the landing zone
  • Any kick that hits in the landing zone - must be returned
  • Any kick that hits in the landing zone and then goes into the end zone – must be returned or downed by receiving team – if downed then touchback to B20 yard line
  • Kick hits in end zone, stays inbounds - returned or downed – if downed then touchback to B35 yard line
  • Any kick that goes out of the back of the end zone (in the air or bounces) – touchback to B35 yard line


  • No fair catch or signal is allowed. Officials will blow the play dead
  • If conditions cause ball to fall off tee twice, then kicker will be allowed to use kicking stick to keep the ball in place. The closest covering official will pick up the stick immediately after the kick
  • Onside kick:
  • 4th quarter begins, the team trailing has the opportunity to declare an onside kick to the officials
  • Current onside kickoff rules would apply. If onside kick goes beyond the setup zone untouched, kicking team penalized for UNS; return team would start the drive at the A20 yard line
  • Penalties:
  • The setup zone and landing zone will not change with any penalties that carry over to kickoffs. Alignment of 10 kickoff team players and all receiving team players would not change – only the spot of the kick would move
  • Penalties on scoring plays will not carry over and will be taken on the Try
  • Penalties on the Try may carry over, and if they do, only the placement of the kicker will change
  • Safety Kick:
  • The kick will be from the 20-yard line, and the kicker will have the option to use a tee; the setup zone and the landing zone will not change
  • Approved Rulings: The special teams working group will continue to work with the Officiating department to examine any necessary approved rulings and/or additional language that may be necessary to support this new rule. This language will be vetted with the clubs, circulated for comment to all the clubs, and finalized by the May meeting for the membership.
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