NFL clarifies rules proposal on alternative to onside kick

The NFL has clarified the rules proposal for an alternative to an onside kick.

The Philadelphia Eagles have proposed allowing one fourth-and-15 scrimmage play from the 25-yard line of the team kicking off. It can be done only in regulation time, and be used twice in a game. Should the team attempting the play succeed, it would keep the ball. If the defense is successful, its offense gets the ball at the spot where the play is blown dead.

A regular onside kick would remain an option.

Team owners will discuss and possibly vote on the Eagles' suggestion on Thursday during a league-wide conference call. The idea is to virtually eliminate the onside kick, which is considered more dangerous than most other football plays, while offering a substitute that could be exciting -- and game changing.

Recent rule changes regarding alignments on onside kicks and run-ups for kicking team players have turned the exercise into something of a relic attempted only in desperate situations. In the past two years, less than 10% of onside kicks succeeded.

After the kicking team notifies the referee it wants to attempt the fourth-and-15 play, it would need to reach its 40-yard line to convert. However, penalties incurred on the previous play, such as a field goal or extra point, would apply and would change the line of scrimmage for the play, which would remain a fourth-and-15 attempt.

Once a team has opted for the scrimmage play, that decision sticks -- unless the team calls a timeout before running the fourth-and-15 play. It could then notify the referee it has decided to kick off instead, and do so.

If the offense has run the alternative play and been flagged for a penalty, the yardage is marked off and another scrimmage play is run. Switching to kicking off instead is barred in that scenario.

The game clock would not run for the play, though a 25-second play clock would be in force.

Some people within the NFL find the proposal gimmicky, and there's some support for trying it in the preseason as an experiment, then evaluating its impact. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, it's uncertain whether the NFL will have a preseason or what it would look like.

New England Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty was asked about the proposal on Wednesday and said he doesn't understand the need for the rule change but said players will learn to adapt if it is passed.

"From a competitive side, especially a defensive back, you don't mind that pressure going out there -- fourth-and-15, or whatever the down-and-distance is, 'All right, we have to show up to win the game.' But if I'm a team and I've earned a right to be up, we've made the plays necessary to be winning in the fourth quarter or whatever it might be, I have a chance to go seal the game by just catching an onside kick vs. being out there for a fourth-and-15 -- from that standpoint, I don't really understand it.

"We're now basically rewarding you for being behind. That's the only thing, for me, that is a negative of it. But at the same time, we're in the entertainment business, and onside kick vs. a fourth-and-15, is a lot more intriguing. So we have no control over it. If they vote yes, we'll be out there preparing situationally how to stop fourth-and-15s with the game on the line," he said.

ESPN's Mike Reiss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.