The NFL approved a pair of new rules, but only as a one-year trial, during the owners meetings in Boca Raton, Florida. For touchdowns on kickoffs, the ball will be placed at the 25-yard line, moving it five yards from the 20-yard line, where they have always been brought out.
Likewise, they approved the proposed rule of automatically ejecting a player after two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.
It is not for all fouls, like roughing the passer or grabbing a facemask. It applies to the following fouls:
(a) Throwing a punch, or a forearm, or kicking at an opponent, even though no contact is made.
(b) Using abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League.
(c) Using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams.
Coaches expressed reservations to the proposal.
The new touchback rule now mirrors college rules. The idea is to limit the number of kick returns, viewed as the most dangerous part of football. It will not apply to punts, just free kicks -- kickoffs.
Even without the new rule, 56 percent of kickoffs resulted in touchbacks in 2015. That number is sure to increase, although now teams could try to strategically kick the ball just short of the end zone, forcing a return, counting on the coverage team to make a tackle before the returner reaches the 25.
It is a move that makes a kick returner even less valuable.
For the Arizona Cardinals, who have been awful in kickoff returns for a while, this should help them. They were dead last in yards per return in 2014 and they improved to 15th 2015. But if you remove David Johnson's 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, they averaged just over 21 yards per return, which would have been 24th in the league.
In 2016, unless teams attempt the shorter kick strategy, we might see almost no returns. Arizona only returned 32 kicks all season -- two per game.