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Samsonite Make Your Case: NFL tries out onside kick replacement

Convert a 4th-and-15 or keep onside kicks the same? Erik Scalavino and Mike Dussault debate the potential new rule before it's tested at Sunday's Pro Bowl.


This weekend during the Pro Bowl the NFL will try out a new idea to replace onsides kicks. Instead of lining up for the kickoff, a team can opt for the chance to convert a 4th-and-15 from their own 25-yard line. If they do not convert, the opposition will take over at the dead-ball spot.

Last offseason the owners voted against this change as a new rule proposal but the NFL liked the idea enough to give it a look at this year's Pro Bowl for future consideration. The league had already changed the rules for onsides kicks in 2018, no longer allowing running starts and the number of successful recoveries fell from 21 percent in 2017 to eight percent in 2018 and then 13 percent this past regular season.

Kickoffs are no longer allowed in the Pro Bowl so this year teams will choose between allowing the opponent to start on their own 25-yard line or trying to convert the 4th down and start a new drive.

This week's Samsonite Make Your Case question of the week is…

Do you like the 4th-and-15 rule or would you prefer to keep onsides kicks the way they are?

Erik Scalavino says…

Like it

I think this is a fantastic idea. I thought so back in March, when Denver GM John Elway first brought up the idea at the 2019 NFL Annual Meeting. While the proposal didn't go anywhere at the time, I'm encouraged to see that it is being revisited this weekend at the Pro Bowl.

What I'm unclear about is whether or not teams can elect to choose the 4th-and-15 option at any point during the game following a score. For instance, in the middle of the second quarter, could the scoring team decide it wants to keep the ball in an effort to put more points on the board and keep the ball out of the hands of the opponent?

Or how about this… rather than start with an opening kickoff, why not go for the 4th-and-15 right then and there. The Saints famously converted an onside kick to start the second half of their eventual Super Bowl win over the Colts 10 years ago. That play brought another level of excitement to the championship game, and this 4th-and-15 proposal could do the same, provided it's not exclusive to end-of-game scenarios.

I certainly hope the Pro Bowl gets to showcase this idea, and if it's successful, I wouldn't be surprised to see the league give this further examination with a trial run during the upcoming preseason.

- ES

Mike Dussault says…

Hate it

The NFL continues to look for ways to make kickoffs safer but I think this method would favor explosive offense teams too much. At least onside kicks have a relatively level playing field between two special teams units. Now, could a team like Kansas City that can throw the ball down the field at will just try to go for it every possession? That seems like a potential negative side effect that could turn games upside down.

As Erik mentioned, we would have to know the specifics as to when the 4th-and-15 rule could be employed. Any and every potential kickoff? Only in the fourth quarter? Only a certain amount of times per game? That would have to be clarified for regular game play aside from the Pro Bowl's special circumstances.

Since 2015, the range of conversions on 3rd and 4th downs with 15-or-more yards to go from 10.6 percent all the way down to 2.3 percent. That's a vast difference from the top teams in the league to the bottom and the average is below even 2018's onside kick recovery rate. 

Are injuries on onside kicks really such a recurring problem? I understand safety is important but this idea is overthought and could be ripe with unintended consequences.

- MD

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