What’s the new NFL rule for ball placement after fair catches and kickoffs?
With the league having made changes to the rules as they pertain to fair catches, kickoffs and ball placement, it’s time to clarify exactly what it’s all about.
Much has been made about the NFL’s ‘touchback’ rule and the way in which it affects the ball placement after fair catches and kickoffs. Now that the league has made alterations to that rule, the debate has intensified once again, but what does that mean?
How does the touchback occur?
Here’s how this works. If a kicked ball, either as a result of a punt, kickoff or missed field goal, touches the ground in the opposing team’s end zone, rolls out of the back-end zone or touches the goal post, the play is ruled a touchback and the ball is subsequently spotted on the 25-yard-line. Touchbacks can also be called if the receiver waves for a fair catch before catching the ball or takes a knee once the ball is caught, however, these two are now anachronisms after rule changes in 2004 and 2011. Indeed, as a result of these alterations, if the ball is left to bounce, the call is the same.
Incidentally, a touchback can also be called if the ball is fumbled through the end zone. Understandably, this is not the norm and when it does occur, it has often led to confusion for fans, but it is common enough that it needed to be addressed. A perfect example would be 2020′s AFC Divisional Round playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Following a fumbled a near-touchdown pass through the end zone, the Browns found themselves with the short end of the stick and a touchback, which in turn resulted in their loss to the Chiefs.
What changes has the NFL made?
On Tuesday, NFL owners voted to approve a resolution which will allow players to fair catch on kickoffs, with the resulting possession starting at the team’s own 25-yard line. Further to that, the new rule also states that the fair catch off of a free kick (safety or kickoff) must occur behind the team’s 25-yard line in order for the ball to be placed at the 25. Interestingly, the rule change has been implemented for just one year, with the league using “player safety” as the central reason for the new proposal. In case you’re wondering, the new rule was initially put on the table by the NFL’s competition committee back in March, with the intention that it be discussed at the Annual League Meeting, as part of the league’s effort to reduce injuries suffered by special teams plays. Though discussions were delayed by about two months, the vote has finally been made and here we are.
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