NEW ORLEANS -- As we noted last week, the NFL's proposed changes to kickoff rules would make a dramatic impact on the NFC North. Not only could it neutralize some elite return men, from Devin Hester and Danieal Manning of the Chicago Bears to Stefan Logan of the Detroit Lions, but it could also minimize the need for the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings to address their relatively short 2010 kickoffs.
The changes would push the kickoff to the 35-yard line, eliminate wedge blocking, limit the head start for cover men to five yards and move the touchback to the 25-yard line. My initial thought was that it would eliminate the kickoff return as we know it, and the Bears have already indicated they will vote against it.
Hester made his own opinion clear via Twitter: "I see the NFL is trying to take the kickoff game out. They already punt out of bounds. What's next?"
As NFC North officials descend on the owners meeting here at the Roosevelt Hotel, I wonder if their votes will reflect the divisional dynamic as well.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz noted the presence of Hester, Logan and the Vikings' Percy Harvin. But he said: "It's a philosophical [decision]. I think when you're doing stuff like that ... if you're voting because of selfish reasons, you're voting for the wrong reasons."
Schwartz wouldn't say how he feels about the rule or how the Lions will vote. (*Update: Lions president Tom Lewand told Detroit-area reporters the team isn't eager to vote for a change.) But my strong sense is that most coaches will oppose it, especially if it minimizes a valuable weapon. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick went on record Monday, saying: "I don't know if that's really good for the game."
What will be interesting is if owners listen to their coaches, or if they listen to a league that has made player safety a key component of its discussions with the NFL Players Association. Ostensibly, the motivation for changing the rule is to reduce injuries during high-impact kickoff plays. If this rule doesn't pass, the NFLPA could use it as evidence that the league isn't as committed to the safety issue as it says it is.
I'm not sure it's that simple, however. What if coaches instruct kickers to pop up their kickoffs near the goal line, forcing a return that might not get to the 25-yard line? Would that have any impact on safety? It's a debatable point, at best, and it's why Tuesday's vote will be highly interesting.
"There will be a lot of discussion over the next couple days about it," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "And I'm anxious to hear the competition committee's argument for it, as well as what myself and other coaches will have to say for it or against it. So, it'll be a lot of discussion. I know special teams coaches are wondering. It would definitely change the NFL as we know it.
"It would have a major impact on special teams -- in particular one of the most exciting plays in pro football, the kickoff return. Some weeks you'd be glad, because it's not available when you play Hester or somebody."