NFL Tables Onside Kick Alternative, Adds Third IR-Return Designation

The NFL did not pass a proposal that would have allowed teams to attempt a fourth-and-15 play instead of an onside kick but did expand the IR-return rules.
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Last week, reports emerged indicating that the NFL planned to propose an alternative to the onside kick. The proposal would have allowed teams to attempt a de facto fourth-and-15 play from their 25-yard line following a score and maintain possession by reaching the line to gain. Given the declining success rate of onside kicks, which fell below 10% last season, the alternative seemed to have a fighting chance of passing a vote of the owners.

However, the proposal fell short of securing enough votes for passage Thursday. While the rule change has come up multiple times and could still receive another chance in the future, the vote signals that the league's owners remain reticent to materially alter that aspect of the sport.

Though the alternative to the onside kick did not receive adequate support, the NFL did pass several other rules. Automatic replay for scoring plays, turnovers, and point-after-touchdown attempts will become permanent and the league expanded defenseless player protections to kickoff and punt returners in certain situations. Additionally, teams can no longer manipulate the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock is running, a tactic New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick employed last season.

Still, perhaps the biggest accepted change affects the transaction wire. NFL teams can now designate three eligible players for return off injured reserve, an increase of one from recent years. The Los Angeles Chargers used both of their designations last season, returning defensive backs Derwin James and Adrian Phillips from IR in December.

-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH