For the second year in a row, NFL owners rejected an idea to modify the current onside kick rule to incorporate a fourth down and 15 yards on a team’s own 25-yard line.

NFL onside kick
Indianapolis Colts kicker Pat McAfee celebrates a successful, surprise onside kick against the Chicago Bears in 2016. (Image: Matt Kryger/Indy Star)

The Philadelphia Eagles initially proposed the alternative for an onside kick to the NFL by using the fourth-and-15 punt scenario from a team’s 25-yard line.

NFL owners gathered via teleconference on Thursday for their annual meeting to vote on new rules and rule modifications. New rules or changes require at least 24 out of 32 votes from the owners.

The onside kick came up for debate once again. Team owners tabled the idea in favor of a more in-depth discussion. Detractors were concerned with how easy it could be for a team can earn a first down through a penalty or pass interference call.

There wasn’t an official vote, but after a show of hands, it was clear the rule wouldn’t come close to passing. NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay said more time is needed to dig deeper into the concept because owners have a lot of questions.

“There were plenty of them raised,” said McKay. “We answered as many as we could. And then we said, ‘For those who are otherwise opposed, we’re going to go back and talk about it and see if this is something that we could address in the future.’ Rules like this that are substantial in nature, they typically take some time, and this is one of the reasons, because people will raise questions and say, ‘Why?’ and ‘Explain,’ and you’ve got to come back with answers.”

Down to 10%

The NFL last altered the onside kick rule to reduce high-impact collisions, thereby resulting in fewer concussions and other injuries. The most recent rules restrict teams to five players on each side of the kicker instead of loading up on one side, as they previously had done. As a result, the current onside kick has been impossible to use as a viable ploy to engineer a comeback.

Before the current rules went into effect, teams recovered onside kicks approximately 16.5% of the time. Now, teams recover onside kicks 10.5% of the time.

Teams that are now trailing late in the game no longer have an opportunity at recovering an onside kick and a shot at pulling off a successful comeback victory. Over the past two seasons, teams that trailed in the fourth quarter and attempted an onside kick went 0-104.

Under the current rules, conservative coaches opted out of using onside kicks because of the high risk.

“The onside kick has become obsolete,” said former Indy Colts kicker, Pat McAfee.

The NFL experimented with the fourth-and-15 from the 25 option in the Pro Bowl. However, owners still want more time to consider their options. Clearly, the current kick rule has been safer for players, but the near-impossible kick recovery rate makes it more difficult for teams to rally from behind to win.

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