INDIANAPOLIS — Members of the NFL competition committee and league leaders met Sunday and discussed potential major modifications to the kickoff. Participants emerged from the approximately four-hour meeting with growing conviction that the committee might propose significant changes by which the NFL could implement a version of the XFL kickoff model as soon as next season.

“I think you might see a proposal” related to a variation of the XFL kickoff, one person familiar with the discussions said afterward. It’s unclear whether such a proposal by the competition committee would receive the 24 votes among the 32 team owners necessary for it to be enacted next season, that person said.

The D.C. Defenders, right, line up against the Seattle Dragons for the opening kickoff Feb. 8, 2020, in Washington, DC. AP file photo

The NFL is searching for a way to keep the kickoff by making the play safer while still having enough returns for it to be relevant. League leaders have called the kickoff the sport’s most dangerous play in terms of the rate of injuries, particularly concussions. A temporary measure enacted for the 2023 season, by which a touchback was awarded for a fair catch of a kickoff inside the 25-yard line, reduced concussions but resulted in only about 22 percent of kickoffs being returned during the regular season.

No kickoffs were returned during the Kansas City Chiefs’ overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII, underscoring the need for the NFL to address the issue this offseason.

The NFL’s consideration of the XFL kickoff alignment, or something resembling it, means the kicker would line up in roughly the traditional spot on the field to kick the ball. But the other members of the kicking team would begin the play lined up far down the field, perhaps only five yards from the blockers for the receiving team. That would attempt to reduce the space and speed elements of the kickoff that result in such violent collisions and frequent injuries.

“My perspective has been that we have to keep the kickoff in the game,” Rich McKay, the CEO of the Atlanta Falcons and chairman of the competition committee, said following Sunday’s meeting. “And to do that, we have to find a way to modernize it and get that play going again, because that 20 percent return rate is not what was intended for that rule. … We said last year, I think, when we passed that fair catch rule that this was kind of a one-year rule, a one-time rule to get us to this point where hopefully we can reinvent the play.”


NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell attended Sunday’s meeting, which took place at the outset of the annual scouting combine. The committee meets every year at the combine to begin formulating rule-change proposals for the offseason.

Any proposal could be considered by the owners at the annual league meeting next month in Orlando. McKay said it was “too early” to say for certain that the committee will propose a variation of the XFL kickoff. He acknowledged that some within the league might be reluctant to ratify such a sweeping overhaul.

“You’re always going to have people that are traditionalists and therefore immediately have their guard up,” McKay said. “I think we just have to be open-minded enough to say: Can we bring plays back in the game that have gone out of the game? And if we can in a creative way, we should consider it. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get 24 votes. But it means that we’ve got to get it on the table and consider it.”

Special teams coaches from NFL teams will have considerable input on the deliberations, McKay said.

“I think they’ll have some say in it because they’ve spent a lot of time studying it and how it can possibly be modified,” he said.

There were eight concussions suffered on kickoffs during the 2023 season, according to the league’s annual injury data. That was down from 20 during the 2022 season, NFL health and safety officials said earlier this month. That 60 percent reduction was attributable almost entirely, those officials said, to the drop in the number of returns.


The owners ratified the fair catch rule last offseason for the 2023 season only. The NFL originally projected that, with the fair catch rule, around 31 percent of kickoffs would be returned during the 2023 season, down from 38 percent during the 2022 season. Instead, that number hovered around 20 percent all season, as teams mostly opted to kick the ball through the end zone instead of trying to hang kickoffs high and short in hopes of pinning the returning team inside the 25-yard line.

It’s not yet clear what modifications to kickoffs the competition committee might propose if it ultimately does not model a proposal around the XFL alignment. It seems increasingly clear that the NFL will keep the status quo in effect for next season on kickoffs only if the league, the competition committee and the owners are unable to reach a consensus on what changes should be made.

McKay declined to declare it a certainty that major modifications will be enacted this offseason.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “Let us have more days than a half-day [of meetings] before I give you an answer to that.”

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