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View from Above: Can we really kick the kickoff to the curb?

Can we keep kickoffs in the game? JR says the kickoff doesn't have to go the way of leather helmets…

Whoa, hold on just a sec.  We're messing with the kickoff?  The very first play of any and every football game, anywhere and everywhere for all time, might go the way of the Dodo bird and become extinct?

It's possible.  

Strange, but in the past couple of years we've watched as rule changes regarding kickoffs have overhauled, re-worked and ultimately de-fanged a once-exciting play and turned it into mind-numbing, gridiron drudgery.

Let's move it up.  Let's move it back.  Let's pop kicks up.  Let's pooch-kick for a fair catch.  Let's just boot it deep for a touchback?  C'mon.  Let's make up our minds.  We started messing with kick-offs in 2011 by moving them up to the 35-yard line, and the rules have been altered just about every year since.

While we're at it, why don't we just flip the coin to see who takes the ball first without a kick altogether?  We're heading in that direction, and it isn't only because a rule committee can't decide what it should do.  

It's because health and safety issues have finally demanded that real, tangible change must take place.  Or else, we risk moving toward a football Armageddon and the ultimate end of a sport as we now know it.

(Jim Mahoney via AP)

I'm not spouting hyperbole here.  If you've been paying attention to football for a while, you know that players are more likely to be injured on a kickoff than on any other play during a game.  It's a simple matter of physics when size, strength and speed collide with each other.  Diagnosed concussions were up more than 13% this past season as compared to 2016.  

The overall concussion injury rate on kickoffs is reported to be five times higher than on any average, single play during a game.

Because of the uptick in injuries, kickoffs have been deemphasized to the point of near-irrelevancy.  In 2010, every NFL team had more than 1000 yards in kickoff return yardage.  This past year?  Only three teams met that mark.

So why do we still have them?  Why have they not been outlawed and sent into football extinction along with leather helmets without facemasks?

Because there remains good, fair and reasonable people within the sport - front office personnel, coaches and officials - who believe kickoffs are still, and should always be, a part of the sport.  I mean, without a kickoff, how would a team try to come from behind without the chance to play for an onside kick?

Just because there's a little scratch or dent on the side of the car doesn't mean you should send the whole thing to the junkyard.  

This can be fixed.  The question however, is how?  And what is the ultimate cost?

"We want to continue to try to improve the safety of it (the kickoff) and preserve the play," Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee, told the Washington Post.  "And I think they've taken big steps toward that.  We know we've begun to take steps.  We think the steps they've proposed really help also because it gets some of the bigger players off the kickoff team, which is something we've wanted to do for a long time."

Special teams' coaches from throughout the NFL met last week in New York and delivered several recommendations to the competition committee for a formal proposal to team owners later this month.  With so much emphasis on player-safety and concussive issues driving football's narrative today, it is expected any changes to kickoff rules will be put in place for next fall.

But will you notice them?  

The proposed changes to kickoffs would keep players on the kicking team from getting a running start on their way downfield, like you already have in punt coverage.  All forms of "wedge" blocking (where multiple blockers band together) by the receiving team will be outlawed.  Eight of the 11 players of the receiving team must line up within 15 yards of the spot of the kickoff and cannot hit anyone within those 15 yards. 

If you're a kickoff return specialist, it's possible you'll find some daylight during a return, somewhere, where previously there may have been little-to-none.  And didn't the Patriots go out and hire themselves a kickoff returner this off-season (Cordarrelle Patterson, who once had a 109-yarder) to prepare for this possibility?

Foresight aside, it's possible we won't notice much change at all on kickoffs - except for the potential return of excitement with the play on the field.  Perhaps we might see improved field position, or more points on the scoreboard?  I'd vote 'yes' to seeing more of that.

Any rule changes with kickoffs should receive year-to-year scrutiny, and safety issues will ultimately decide if any further messing around with the kickoff is the right thing to do.

Especially if we want to keep it from extinction.

Where in the world is TB12?

Tom Brady is missing from voluntary work-outs?  He didn't go to the Kentucky Derby with his buddies this year?  

What in the wide, wide world of Tom Terrific is going on here?  

I overheard an impassioned 'debate' between two Patriots' fans over the weekend, both insisting that they're ready to move on without Tom Brady at the helm of their favorite football team.  Why?

"Because Brady ain't at workouts or palling-around with his boys, how interested can he be?"

That's paraphrasing what was said, because what was actually said wasn't as kind.  Or re-printable.

Fortunately, a third party (no, it wasn't me) jumped in at just the right time, before heads could explode, with a logical, sane reason for his current M.I.A. status.  "He's saving up for the season.  Dude is 41."

Brady alluded to a potential reason for staying out of the public spotlight this past week, when he spoke with Jim Gray at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Santa Monica, California.  "I think I am really trying to fill my tank up so that when I do go back and I think in my mind I can actually be a better player, a better teammate because I will be really rejuvenated and the fact I want to be there doing the work for them is still very enjoyable to me," he told Gray and the conference attendees.

But we only want to pay attention to, and draw conclusions from, controversial words, opinions and actions.  Right?  

Dudes.  Read up.

It's about the money

Matt Ryan's new five-yearcontract extension announced over the weekend, at $30 million per season with $100 million guaranteed, was more than just an eyebrow-raiser.

It underscores the fact that Brady is not among the highest-paid at his position in the NFL.  Not in the Top 5, not in the Top 10, even.

Would you believe 16th?  And the Patriots' 40-year-old QB was the Most Valuable Player in the NFL this past season?  That's serious bang-for-the-buck, even by today's standards.

And while the most casual Patriots' fan knows the organizations' penchant for being thrifty, it does stand to reason that TB12 could be (should be) in line for some sort of contractual adjustment (i.e. pay raise) prior to the start of the season.

(Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

Especially when you consider Ryan - who is a very good quarterback and deserving of every penny he receives - is a mere 4-6 in his postseason career, while Brady is 5-3.  

In Super Bowl games played.

Still, the money he is scheduled to earn this season and next dwarfs his actual base compensation from 2016 and 2017 (earning a Filene's Basement-like $1 million) with a $22 million cap hit this year and next.

So, there's no need to take up a collection for TB12.  He's paid handsomely, as many players are well-compensated at this level for their talent.  But here's the thing - Brady has already said he'd like to play a bit longer than his current deal calls for, which expires after 2019.

There's no line in the sand being drawn here, and both team and player have insisted (publicly) there are no current contractual issues between them.  But just the same, wouldn't a little extra sugar go a long way toward sweetening the Kool-Aid around Fort Foxboro?

John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and has completed 25 seasons as the Patriots' stadium voice.  Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 30 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.

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