The NFL owners voted Tuesday to change the kickoff rules ahead of the 2018 season. The obvious reason: safety. Research showed that last season concussions were five times more likely on kickoffs and the hope is to substantially reduce head injuries through various tweaks, including requiring the kicking team to have five players on each side of the ball, the return team having at least eight players within 15 yards of the ball at kickoff, doing away with wedge blocks, and ruling the ball dead if it touches the ground in the end zone.
But according to NFL Executive V.P. of Football Operations Troy Vincent, there's another reason for the rules changes: increase the chance of scoring plays.
"This will encourage more kickoff returns and a more explosive play," Vincent told PFT Live's Mike Florio on Wednesday.
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In late March, Vincent told radio host Dan Patrick kickoffs may not be long for the NFL and it has everything to do with safety concerns.
"There are three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams," Vincent said at the time. "To just think about the removal of not having that kickoff return part of the game, there's resistance. But we understand we're at a place -- college football is adjusting, high school, at the Pee Wee level. We are going to address some of those issues that we see in the kickoff. ...
"We're going to put a group together ... and really discuss," Vincent continued. "We have to do something about that play. The spacing and the contact that's being made on the punt return. The injuries, both soft tissue and head injuries that occur. The future ... it could be, it could be something we have to examine."
But instead of eliminating the kickoff, the league has tried to make it safer and more exciting.
"What our data has said is most of those head injuries occurred up in that first 15 yards, which we call the no-blocking zone," Vincent told Florio. "We believe it will reduce some of the unnecessary risk that we've seen in the past."
For now, the kickoff remains a part of the game. But if these changes don't lead to fewer concussions -- or more big plays -- kickoffs may not be long for the NFL.