As you might have heard, New York Giants owner John Mara recently floated an idea that has been discussed in league circles for months: Eliminating kickoffs as a matter of player safety. Mara told the Giants' website that "there’s no consensus on it right now, but I could see the day in the future where that play could be taken out of the game."
Such a dramatic change would have far-reaching impact, from eliminating the jobs of kickoff returns to lowering the value of place-kickers. Chicago Bears place-kicker Robbie Gould, speaking this week on ESPN 1000, brought up another point: How would you replace the stadium anticipation of an opening kickoff?
"Eliminating kickoffs completely from the game, and having pee wee football where you place it at the 25- and the 30-yard line, for one, it would make [the opening] very anticlimactic for fans," Gould said.
Gould wondered if Mara was simply tossing out a line to see if any fish would bite.
"I don't think they'll ever do it. In my opinion, the league tries to find ways to make the game safer for everybody. Sometimes the ideas that they talk about never really hit full circle. … It wouldn't surprise me if they put that out there to find out whether or not, or how, the fans would react and make a decision based upon their reaction."
I hope Gould is right. Eliminating kickoffs would end a high-contact play, but isn't the entire game about high contact? And wouldn't the league be on a slippery slope here? It's one thing to toughen rules for hitting quarterbacks and defenseless receivers. It's another to eliminate entire segments of the game.
Even if you're viewing it from a legal perspective, wouldn't the NFL open itself to new liability by eliminating kickoffs? What if a punter, who routinely puts himself in a defenseless position, suffers a severe concussion on a hit and sues the NFL. Couldn't the punter argue that he wasn't given the same protection as, say, special-teams cover men were granted when the NFL eliminated kickoffs?
We could go on. What about pulling guards? Is it safe for a 190-pound cornerback to take on a 320-pound offensive lineman with a head start?
You get the drift. Agree? Disagree? Go right ahead.
Related: Grantland's Bill Barnwell offers some ideas for replacing kickoffs and onside kicks.