Against the Grain: In defense of the four-point FG, a long shot rule change
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It is rare that the NFL’s competition committee passes anything without at least some controversy. Even the simplest rule changes are met with unintended consequences. Thus lost in the fervor of the ejection rule and moving touchbacks to the 25-yard line was the overwhelming success of moving the extra point to the 15-yard line, which became permanent this week.
Yes, the league turned its most boring play into something you’d think twice about missing for a bathroom break. More strategy, a little more drama. Good job, NFL. No headline here.
What this proves is that the league can actually make a fundamental change to the game—even one that increases the importance of the kicker—and nothing bad has to happen. Next year, the competition committee should use this newfound capital to introduce a bold new rule that seems a bit wacky but would definitely make the game more exciting. It’s time to make longer field goals worth four points.
The NFL has tried enhancing long field goals before, rewarding field goals over 50 yards in NFL Europe. Future Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri lobbied for it in interviews last off-season. Now it’s time for a team with a great kicker—like the Patriots or Panthers—to officially propose it.
Think about the added intrigue of a four-point field goal. A team down four with time running out would have a shot at survival short of a desperation heave to the end zone. Coaches may call for negative plays—like a QB taking the snap and running five yards backward. Defenses may let ballcarriers get that extra yard to knock them out of the four-point zone. This change would put more pressure on coaches on both sides of the ball to make risky in-game decisions. Radio hosts around America should be lobbying hard for this change, because it would result in a Monday morning bonanza of controversy.
Old school types could argue this rule would overemphasize kickers. But it would also greatly reduce the frequency of one of the worst plays in football: punting from your opponent’s side of the field. Fans and coaches seem to regularly disagree with how a team should handle a fourth-and-short from its opponents’ 42-yard line. Every person in the stadium wants the team to go for it or kick a field goal. Many coaches elect to try and pin their opponent with momentum in mind. The result is often a meager net gain on the punt and a lot of boos.
One of the fundamental issues would be where to set the line. In 2015, kickers were 104 for 160 (65%) from 50 yards and out. If those kicks were rewarded an extra point, that would add less than half a point per game over the course of the season. That number would go up if the four-point rule passed. Perhaps 50-yarders have become too easy. Kickers were successful 14 out of 25 times from 55 yards out last season. And a miss at 55 is a big risk since it puts the opponent at its own 45. Now we’re getting into a serious chess match!
The rule could also have personnel implications. Big-legged kickers become bona fide draft prospects. And considering kickers have to drive the ball low from that distance, players that can block field goals would be more valuable. Perhaps every team would have its own version of Dikembe Mutombo for that particular late-game situation.
Moving the extra point back proved there’s nothing wrong with emphasizing the kicking game. It is called football, after all. Back in the 1880s, field goals were worth five points and touchdowns just four. Back then, they’d dance after field goals and just hand the ball to the official after a TD.
Surely the NFL’s version of Goose Gossage, of which there are many, would hate this proposal. But just like baseball, the NFL has to keep evolving to stay interesting to younger audiences. How ironic would it be if the NFL holds off soccer’s rise by adding to its kicking game?
If the thought of a four-point kick really bothers you, just think of it as a counterbalance to the increase in missed extra points. Cosmically, we’re good.