During owners meetings last month, NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent appeared on the Dan Patrick Show. One of the topics discussed on the air was how kickoffs might be handled in the future. Vincent, who played for the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles before joining the league office, said that the play “could be something we have to examine” at one point further down the line.
The idea of an NFL without kickoffs certainly is a controversial one. While the medical data, as Vincent claims, would be an argument supporting those looking to abolish the play, the history of the sport – one of which the kickoff is an integral part – cannot easily be wiped away. One of the best special teamers of his time, New England Patriots team captain Matthew Slater, certainly agrees.
Slater spoke to reporters yesterday about the Patriots' offseason workouts and during the talk, kickoffs were brought up. The 32-year old offered a passionate defense to keep the play as is:
A lot of people will say I have a bias because it's what I do for a living, and I understand that. But I think it's no mystery that I'm closer to the end of my career than I am to the beginning. That being said, I think if you take away this play from football, you're changing the fabric of the game. I think this play is part of the fabric of the game, and it really makes me ask the question: Where do you go from here? What would happen next? And I don't know the answer to that. I don't know.
But I look at a number of plays: I look at a goal-line stand, I look at a third-and-one – think about the collisions that are happening there. Those may be deemed unsafe by some people. So if you make a drastic change such as this, what's next? What happens? The reality is this is football. This is a contact sport, this is a violent sport. And all of us that are playing the game understand that. There is an inherent risk that comes along with playing the game. If you're not okay with that risk, I respect that, and maybe you should think about doing something else.
But if we feel like we need to take away this play from the game to make the game safer, well then, what does that stop? The game has changed so much in my time – since my father played, watching him play, to now – and I understand. Look, I'm a player rep and nobody cares more about player health and safety than the players, than the men that are out there on the field putting their bodies on the line. But that being said, we understand we're playing football. And to take away the kickoff, I really think it would be tragic.
I really think you're changing the fabric of the game that we all love to cover, report on, that we all love to play, coach. And I think it's very disheartening to continue to have this brought up. And I understand, look, people are concerned with the long-term health and safety of the players. But as I said, no one's more concerned than the men that are actually out there doing it. And if we're okay doing it, I don't understand why we have to continue to look for alternatives, continue to push. Those are just my thoughts on it. As you can tell, I feel strongly about it and would love to continue that dialogue throughout the course of the season.
Slater, one of the most charismatic players in the NFL, certainly knows how to voice his displeasure of the thought of eliminating kickoffs without making his statements too controversial. This level-headed approach to the discussion is certainly a welcome one – and one that should be applied if talks about a rule change ever move beyond the theoretical stage they are currently still in.