NFL votes to significantly alter kickoff rules in name of safety and to revive returns

Looking to revive what some people believe is the most exciting play in football, NFL owners on Tuesday voted to radically alter kickoff rules for the 2024 season.

The hybrid kickoff passed by a 29-3 vote.

The new kickoff rules are intended to make the play safer — players will no longer be able to gather the same head of steam running down the field — and make returns more likely. Only 22% of kickoffs were returned last season.

The look of the alignment will be unfamiliar. The kicker will remain at the 35-yard line, but the other 10 players of the coverage team will line up on the opponent’s 40, across from the members of the return team.

At least seven of those return-team members must line up in the five-yard area between the 30 and 35, called the “set-up zone.” That means the return team has the option of placing up to three players between its 20- and 30-yard lines.

A maximum of two returners can be positioned in the “landing zone,” located between the goal line and the 20.

If a kickoff lands in the landing zone but carries into end zone where it’s downed, the receiving team gets the ball at its 20. If the ball sails into the end zone and is downed downed — or goes out the back of the end zone — the receiving team starts at the 35.

Kickoffs short of the landing zone are treated the same way out-of-bounds kickoffs are — they are spotted at the 40.

As for onside kicks, they will still be allowed, but only in the fourth quarter and by the trailing team. That team will have to declare to the official its intent to attempt an onside kick.

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