NEW YORK -- The NFL is not considering the elimination of the kickoff for the 2018 season, league executive vice president Troy Vincent said Tuesday at the start of a two-day player-safety summit. Instead, Vincent said, the league hopes to make substantive adjustments to alignment and formation requirements in hopes of repairing what is by far the most dangerous play of the game.
"There's no question that this is not about getting [the kickoff] out of the game," Vincent said. "It's about enhancing it."
NFL data showed that concussions were five times more likely to occur on kickoffs in 2017 than any other play, a statistical outlier even after years of rule changes designed to reduce returns. In 2017, only 40 percent of kickoffs were returned.
On the one hand, Vincent said, the kickoff is in danger of becoming a "ceremonial play." On the other hand, as Green Bay Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy said in March, the play is still too dangerous despite its reduction in frequency. Murphy, a member of the competition committee, said the kickoff would be eliminated if it could not be made safer.
The ensuing public discussion, Vincent said, has "incentivized" advocates to forward a number of suggestions for safer alternatives. Details will be discussed Wednesday, when a group of special-teams coaches and players arrive at the league offices. But the likeliest scenario is shifting the alignment to something that resembles a punt, requiring more one-on-one blocking with less contact preceded by running starts. By the end of Wednesday, Vincent said, the league hopes to have a "consensus" to allow the competition committee to write a new kickoff rule. Owners would then vote on the proposal at their May 21-23 spring meeting in Atlanta.
"Hopefully we'll have something to present to ownership for this fall, without moving too fast," Vincent said.
The NFL has gathered a group of owners, coaches, executives, former players and representatives of the NFL Players Association this week to discuss all aspects of player safety. Tuesday's agenda will focus on interior line play and provide further details, and context for, a new rule that will penalize players 15 yards for lowering their helmets to initiate contact.