The NFL has been attempting to make the game safer for players over the last few years, and one of the ways the league decided to do so was to try and eliminate the kickoff. While the league didn’t end the kickoff, they moved the spot closer to the opposing end zone to increase the chances of touchbacks, which eliminates a return by the receiving team. As expected, the changes weren’t appreciated by some players, one of whom is Chris Maragos of the Philadelphia Eagles. After the disappointing season the Eagles had last year, they won’t be favored in a lot of NFL spreads this season, so be careful when placing bets on the team.
As a special teams player, Maragos only participates in a few plays per game. With the league making it harder for players to return kicks, Maragos feels like he will soon be out of a job if the league continues to alter the way teams return kicks.
Stephen Jones, the son of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and a member of the competition committee, suggested that player safety is more important than players getting paid to return kicks and punts. However, Maragos pointed out that even though things move fast when players are returning kicks, he has never felt his safety was compromised.
Maragos, who is entering his seventh year in the league said that while kick returns might look chaotic to people who aren’t participating, but the people who have been doing it for a while know what they are doing and have it under control.
Despite the protests from players like Maragos, the league has continued tweaking the kick return rules. This year, the league plans on experimenting with the spot of the ball after a touchback as a sort of incentive for teams to take a knee in the end zone more.
Instead of the ball being placed on the 20 yard line as it has in the past, it will be placed on the 25 yard line for this season. If things go well, the 25 yard line will be where the ball is spotted after a touchback in future seasons.
Dean Blandino, who is the senior vice president of officiating, held a conference call with special teams coaches in the offseason.
Blandino said a few ideas were exchanged, but the league has no intention of eliminating kick returns, calling it an exciting part of the game.
Because the league sees the kick return as a very dangerous play, Stephen Joes wasn’t moved by the fact that trying to eliminate it will eliminate a lot of special teams jobs in the process.
Jones told reporters that at the end of the day, player safety if the top priority, and if it comes at the expense of something else teams just have to accept it.
Last season, one of the most noteworthy plays happened on a kick return. Dallas Cowboys safety Jeff Heath blocked Seattle’s Ricardo Lockette when he was in full stride and didn’t see him. While the play was legal, it resulted in Lockette suffering a neck injury that ended his career.
While neither side will come to an agreement before the start of the season, don’t be surprised to see more significant changes with kick returns next season.