NFL's onside kicks on endangered list, options mulled

Published: Jan. 30, 2020 at 7:28 PM CST
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The last time the Super Bowl was held here in Miami, 10 years ago, an onside kick played a pivotal role in swinging the game as the Saints started the 2nd half with an ambush onside kick against the Colts.

But these days? Those kicks are nearly dead in the water.

Onside attempts before 2018 were always an adventure, but rules changes designed to enhance player safety have made recovering an onside kick next to impossible.

Only half as many have been recovered in the 2 years since the changes went into effect. The NFL is toying with replacing a kick altogether with a 4th-and-15 onside conversion, which was tried for the first time at the Pro Bowl last week.

"It's unfortunate because onside kicks are exciting," said Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker. "But whatever we need to do to make the game more valuable for the fans, I am for that. Obviously the more kickers are in it, I'm all for it. As kickers it's on us to find ways to make it more successful for our team. The biggest rule change was now you have 8 of the 11 guys on the return team are within a 15-yard setup zone and close to onside kick team. But on the kick team you can only have 2 guys outside the numbers. If I am doing a kick to the right, we only have 2 guys out near the sideline trying to recover it."

"I think now it has become so difficult with not being able to bunch guys together," said NFL officiating expert Mike Pereira. "They have made so many changes in the kicking game. 7 percent success rate is not enough. I am not going to be surprised at all if they go to the 4th-and-15 like they did in the Pro Bowl."

Other rules issues to pay attention to in the Super Bowl and into the offseason meetings include reviewable pass interference, which has not left good taste in anyone's mouth (Mike Pereira had a mouthful to say on that issue, watch for Fridays report). Also watch for the rules loophole that has allowed offenses with the lead to drain minutes off the clock before punting.

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