A dramatic rule change pertaining to onside kicks could be coming to the NFL in 2020 if the league’s owners vote to make it happen. The Eagles have proposed a rule that would give teams an alternative option to the onside kick. Instead of trying to recover an onside kick, teams would have the option of attempting to convert a fourth-and-15 play from their own 25-yard line. If they get the 15 yards, they get a first down and keep possession of the ball. If they don’t get the 15 yards, the other team would take over possession from wherever the play ended.
Although NFL owners don’t generally approve dramatic rule changes — the Colts‘ nine-point touchdown proposal got shot down in 2015 — the proposal from Philadelphia might actually have a chance to pass and that’s because it seems to have some support from the competition committee. Last year, the Broncos proposed a similar rule, and at the time, the committee actually voted 7-1 in favor of the proposal.
Despite the committee’s endorsement, most owners ended up voting against the proposed rule and it didn’t pass.
A big reason the competition committee liked the idea is because the success rate for onside kicks has fallen dramatically under the NFL’s new kickoff rules, which were implemented in 2018. Under the new rules, players aren’t allowed to get a running start, which makes it almost impossible to recover an onside kick. The onside recovery rate was just 7.5 percent in 2018 (4 of 53), which was a dramatic decrease over the 21.7 percent recovery rate from 2017 (13 of 60), when the running start was still permitted. In 2019, the onside rate went up to 12.5 percent (7 out of 56), but that was largely thanks to Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo, who converted two in one game.
Not only would the fourth-and-15 play add some serious excitement, but based on numbers over the past few years, teams would also have a better chance of converting the alternative onside kick than they would the traditional onside kick.
Although the Broncos proposal got shot down last year, the Eagles proposal might have a chance of passing, and that’s because Philly made some slight tweaks. Under Philly’s plan, the fourth-and-15 play would happen from a team’s own 25-yard line, which makes it more high-risk than the Broncos plan, which called for the play to happen at the 35-yard line.
Also, under the Broncos plan, a team could only use the alternative onside kick once per game, and it could only happen in the fourth quarter. Under the Eagles plan, teams will be able to use it up to twice per game, and during any quarter.
If you’re wondering how exactly the play would be officiated, all normal rules would apply, so if a defense got called for defensive holding, the five-yard penalty would result in an automatic first down for the offense. Also, if the offense got penalized, they wouldn’t be allowed to then kickoff after the penalty is enforced. They’d have to run a fourth-down play from their new line of scrimmage, so an offensive holding penalty would lead to a fourth-and-25 from the 15-yard line, and if the offensive team didn’t convert, the defensive team would take over on downs from where the play ended.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s probably because the Alliance of America Football instituted a similar rule for its inaugural season last year. In the AAF, instead of an onside kick, teams were allowed to try and convert a fourth-and-12 play from their own 28 after scoring. The catch in the AAF was that a team was only allowed to exercise this option if they were trailing by 17 or more points or if they were trailing with under five minutes left in the game.
The first-ever onside conversion attempt was a wild success in the AAF earlier this year, and the NFL definitely took note.
In the NFL, the play could be attempted after any score, including a touchdown or a field goal. A team could also attempt the fourth-and-15 after giving up a safety. Regular onside kicks could also still be attempted at any point in the game as well.