Exploring possibilities of Eagles' alternative onside kick rule


The Eagles are not afraid to innovate.

The NFL Football Operations department on Friday confirmed that the league’s 32 teams will vote at the upcoming owners’ meetings on a proposal presented by the Eagles to provide an alternative to onside kicks.

The Eagles’ plan would allow a trailing team to attempt a 4th-and-15 from their own 25-yard line. If successful, the trailing team would maintain possession of the ball. The possibilities stemming from this are potentially endless.

The increased safety mandates have made it next to impossible to recover onside kicks in obvious situations. Meanwhile, teams converted nearly 12 percent of the time on 3rd/4th-and-15 situations last season (not counting punts). Keep in mind, it’s challenging to know how that conversion rate might be impacted due to the increased ramifications of a play like this.

The most interesting aspect of this proposal in practice would be penalties. Would a pre-snap penalty like a false start negate the try or make it a 4th-and-20th? One would assume that an offensive penalty during the play, such as holding, would give possession to the other team. 

What about defensive penalties? Does the league really want to allow a team to keep possession down two points with a minute to play because of an illegal contact penalty? Would officials be less inclined to call penalties in this situation because of the importance of the play? One could imagine this play being officiated like the Hail Mary where almost anything goes.

Furthermore, why limit this opportunity to trailing teams? Imagine a great offensive team with a poor defense trying to play “make it, take it” after scores for all four quarters. That would definitely be more interesting than a perfunctory touchback. 

Of course, the converse is the possibility of keeping great players off the field for longer periods of time. Imagine a Sunday Night Football game between the Chiefs and Broncos where Patrick Mahomes doesn’t touch the ball for 12 minutes of game time because of one defensive holding penalty. Tough to see Park Avenue signing off on that.

Considering the NFL’s collective disdain for change, it's tough to imagine 75 percent of the clubs voting for increased chaos. And that’s a shame. The Eagles’ plan would certainly make games more entertaining while adding a myriad of strategic possibilities. 

One last question: Isn’t that what sports should be about?

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