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NFL owners vote to approve new kickoff rules and reviewable ejection procedures

The changes will be enforced this year.

New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

While the 32 NFL teams are holding organized team activities all over the country, the league's 32 owners are meeting in Atlanta to discuss a multitude of topics: The Super Bowl sites for 2023 and 2024 will soon become official, a new anthem policy might be right around the corner, all while David Tepper buying the Carolina Panthers has been approved by his now-colleagues.

The owners also voted on some potential rule changes and the following two were passed:

Playing Rule Proposal 12: Expands reviewable plays to include the disqualification of a player.

During March's ownership meetings, the league approved a new rule on helmet-to-helmet hits: deliberately initiating contact with the helmet can now lead to a 15-yard penalty or even ejection. Yesterday, the rule's language was finalized and it now deems it “a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.”

Furthermore, the league clarified its standards for player ejections under the new helmet-to-helmet rule:

Player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet;

Player delivering the blow had an unobstructed path to his opponent;

Contact was clearly avoidable; Player delivering the blow had other options

It will certainly be interesting to see how the league enforces this set of rules especially when it comes to run- and goal line-blocking. It seems, however, as if the NFL knows scrutiny will be coming which is why yesterday it also added player disqualifications to the list of reviewable plays: a player getting sent off can now be overturned by the designated review officials.

Playing Rule Proposal 13a: Modifies the kickoff play for one year only.

The second proposal that passed yesterday alters the way kickoffs are played in 2018 – the rule will be reexamined next year – with the goal of changing some of the aspects that make the play one of the most violent in football. In order to do that, the league adapted the following new rules:

Kickoff Team must have 5 players on each side of the ball (5x5 alignment)

Kickoff team cannot line up more than 1 yard from restraining line (34-yard line for kickoff at 35)

At least 2 players must be lined up outside the yard-line number and 2 players between the inbounds line and the yard-line number

At least 8 players must be in 15-yard “setup zone” prior to the kickoff; only 3 players can remain outside of the setup zone

No wedge blocks are permitted. Only players who were initially lined up in the setup zone may come together in a double-team block

Until the ball is touched or the ball hits the ground, no player on the receiving team may cross its restraining line, or initiate a block against the kicking team in the 15-yard area from the kicking team’s restraining line.

The ball is dead if it is not touched by the receiving team and touches the ground in the end zone (touchback)

Due to the new rules, the kickoff will now look more like a punt return: The whole procedure will be slower and collisions as a result less devastating. Of course, this might also lead to more kickoff return scores as coverage units now will take a bit longer to get down the field. In 2017, there were seven touchdowns scored on kickoffs – and it would not be surprising to see this number go up.