In the three seasons since Tom Brady left the Patriots, New England coach Bill Belichick has compiled a 25-26 record with one playoff appearance and zero postseason wins. With the Patriots locked into the hardest schedule in the upcoming season by a fairly wide margin, things are not going to get any easier on the 71-year-old coach — and the NFL’s new kickoff rule is not going to help.
In the name of player safety, NFL owners voted Tuesday for a one-year trial of an enhanced touchback rule that will give the receiving team the ball at its own 25 with a fair catch of a kickoff anywhere behind that yard line. According to the NFL, incentivizing the fair catch will reduce the return rate for kickoffs in 2023 to 31% from 38% in 2022 and drop the rate of concussions on pro football’s most dangerous play by 15%.
“There’ll be a lot more work to be done about how we can continue to evolve going forward,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. “Can we continue to keep this play in an exciting way, but more importantly in a safe way? There’s a lot of work that’s going to need to be done.”
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The rule, which will theoretically reduce the number of violent collisions in a game that is getting closer to two-hand touch with each passing year, reduces the value of having skilled special teams players on either side of the ball as there will simply be fewer plays that will really require their services.
That’s bad news for an old-school coach like Belichick who puts a (possibly undue) emphasis on special teams and has multiple players on his roster who exclusively play on kickoffs and punts. While the rule change doesn’t make those players useless or completely obsolete, it does make paying them market-value salaries a bit more dubious as their on-field value, as outlined by the NFL, has just dropped by 7%.
While Belichick has yet to speak on the NFL’s new kickoff rule, it’s safe to say he likely is not a fan, as the ornery coach was outspoken in 2016 when the league passed the rule that gives the offense the ball at the 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line on touchbacks in an effort to reduce concussions.
“Seems like, football, we’ve got a pretty good game here. Been that way for a long time. Seems like the kicking game has been a great part of our game,” Belichick said at the time. “Some of the concussions and some of the injuries look to me like they come on touchbacks. So we want more touchbacks. Is that really solving the problem here, as it’s been presented by the competition committee? I think you know how I feel about that. We’ll see how smart some of that has really been to address the problems that we think are being addressed.”
We’ll do the same thing during the upcoming NFL season once the new kickoff rule goes into effect.