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NFL Owners Approve New Kickoff Rule, Expand Coach's Challenges in 2024

Kickoff returns are coming back, likely in a big way, thanks to a brand-new look for 2024.

NFL Owners on Tuesday at the Annual League Meeting voted to approve a rule change proposal that will rethink the way kickoffs are done in the NFL.

The proposal was submitted by the NFL's Competition Committee and will be in effect for a one-year trial period. It is an attempt to return the excitement of kickoff returns back to the games while being mindful of player health and safety.

It will apply to all free kicks, which include kickoffs to start halves and those that follow field goals and touchdowns, as well as what a team decides to do after allowing a safety.

Under the new format …

A kickoff will continue to place the ball at the kicking team's 35-yard line (unless a penalty is enforced).

The 10 non-kicker members of the kicking team will line up with one foot on the receiving team's 40-yard line. Those players cannot move until the ball hits the ground or is touched by another team.


The receiving team will line up with nine of its players in a "setup zone," a 5-yard area between its 35- and 30-yard line. At least seven of those players must have a foot on the 35. The players not on the 35 must line up outside the hash marks. The players in the setup zone cannot move until the ball hits the ground or touches a player.

A maximum of two returners can line up in the landing zone and can move at any time.

The landing zone will be the area between the team's goal line and its 20-yard line.


Any kick that hits before crossing the receiving team's 20-yard line will be spotted at the receiving team's 40 (as it is for a kickoff that goes out of bounds).

Any kick placed in the landing zone must be returned. Any kick that hits in the landing zone and goes into the end zone must be returned or downed by the receiving team. The latter move would result in a touchback to the 20-yard line.

A kick that hits in the end zone and stays inbounds could be returned or downed. If downed, the ball will be spotted at the 35-yard line. A kick that goes out the back of the end zone will result in a touchback to the 35-yard line.

No fair catch or signal is allowed (unlike punt returns).

After the fourth quarter begins, a trailing team will have the opportunity to declare an onside kick under 2023 rules. If an onside kick goes beyond the setup zone untouched, a penalty will occur and the ball will be placed at the kicking team's 20-yard line for the receiving team to begin the next possession.

For free kicks that follow a safety, the ball will be kicked from the 20-yard line, and the kicker will have an option to use a tee. The setup zone and landing zone will not change.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah spoke with Vikings Entertainment Network's Tatum Everett on Monday while the kickoff rule change was still under deliberation.

"It's unique. It's very much a major, major change in our game, but we're trying to get a play back involved in the game that, quite frankly, is almost becoming a non-play [at this point] with the [number] of touchbacks that we've had," O'Connell said. "I think the intent and why the rules have gone to where they've gone to over the past 10 years or so, about player health and safety, have really been felt – the injury numbers are down, the head injuries are down.

"I think that the special teams coaches came up with a really cool thought process to get the play back involved in our game," O'Connell added. "We're just working through some of those unforeseen circumstances that aren't on a sheet of paper that coaches are going to have to be dealing with in real time, as the season goes on."

Adofo-Mensah said some changes can equate to an "exercise in unintended consequences."

"We make laws or rules, and people react and respond, and different things can happen," Adofo-Mensah said. "So I love kind of seeing through history how they've tried to manage the game and different things that have happened, and you get to see kind of a U.N. Council dynamic with 'countries' and there are alliances and things like that. It's a really interesting human experiment.

"Ultimately, we all just want to grow the game and keep it in a great place," Adofo-Mensah said. "And I think once you realize that's everybody's objective, it's a really great conversation."

Adofo-Mensah called the conversation around the kickoff rule change "really interesting" because there were "great" points made on each side of the discussion.

Owners (24 of 32 required to pass a change) voted to implement six of the 10 rule changes that had been proposed, as well as four of the seven proposed changes to NFL bylaws.

Rule Changes Approved

In addition to the kickoff change, the following rule change proposals passed:

Coach's Challenge (submitted by Detroit): Teams will be awarded a third coach's challenge if they are successful on at least one of the first two challenges within a game. Previously, a team had to succeed on each of its first two challenges to receive a third.

Enforcement of major penalty (submitted by Competition Committee): If the offense commits an unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct penalty before a change of possession, the penalty will now be enforced.

Replay review (submitted by Competition Committee): Makes whether a passer was down by contact or out of bounds before throwing a pass a reviewable play.

Replay review (submitted by Competition Committee): Allows a replay review when there is "clear and obvious visual evidence" that the game clock expired before any snap.

Banning "hip drop" tackle (submitted by Competition Committee): Owners unanimously approved the elimination of the hip-drop tackle, making it a foul if a player grabs a runner with both hands or arms and "unweights himself by swiveling and dropping his hips and/or lower body, landing on and trapping the runner's leg(s) at or below the knee." The penalty will be 15 yards.

Bylaw Changes Approved

Roster flexibility during postseason (submitted by Detroit): Clubs will now have an unlimited number of Designated to Return transactions during a postseason.

Trade deadline change (submitted by Pittsburgh): The NFL trade deadline will be moved from the Tuesday after Week 8 to the Tuesday after Week 9.

Roster flexibility during reduction period (submitted by Competition Committee): Teams will now be allowed to place a maximum of two players on an applicable Reserve List on the business day of the final roster reduction to be Designated for Return. Those players will count against the maximum of eight players per team who can be Designated to Return within a season.

Emergency QB elevations (submitted by Competition Committee): Teams will now have an unlimited number of times to elevate a "bona fide quarterback" from their practice squads to their active lists to be an emergency third quarterback. Emergency third quarterbacks dress for the game but only play if a team's first two quarterbacks leave because of injury. Last year, the emergency third quarterback was required to be rostered on the 53-man list.