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A closer look at the onside kick alternative

The NFL will consider multiple rule changes at the owners meetings, including both teams getting a possession in overtime and replay reviews for certain penalties.

At next week’s owners’ meeting, the NFL will consider an alternative to the onside kick that would allow teams that score a touchdown or field goal -- or teams that give up a safety -- in the fourth quarter to elect not to kick off and instead line up their offense for a fourth-and-15 play from the 35-yard line. If they get to the 50, they keep the ball.

The rule has been proposed because last year’s changes to the kickoff made onside kicks harder to recover successfully. Picking up a fourth-and-15 isn’t easy to do either, but some teams may think it’s easier than recovering an onside kick.

Teams will only be permitted to try the fourth-and-15 once a game, and only in the fourth quarter, so we won’t see a team trying it in a surprising situation early in a game. Teams may not punt on the play.

Here’s the full text of the proposed new rule:

A team may elect once per game during the fourth period to play offense instead of a kickoff or safety kick. The following rules will apply if such an election is made:

(1) The kicking team must notify the referee of its intention to forego a kickoff or safety kick for one offensive play. The referee will then notify the team that would otherwise be receiving the kickoff or safety kick.

(2) The ball will be spotted on the kicking team’s restraining line and the kicking team will have one scrimmage down on offense to gain 15 yards (4th and 15) to the line to gain. The sideline chain unit will be placed five yards ahead of A’s restraining line and the first down marker will be placed 15 yards from A’s restraining line (40 yard-line to the 50-yard line on a normal kickoff play when the restraining line is the 35-yard line).

(3) Play clock will be set to 25 seconds and winds on the ready for play signal. Game clock starts on the snap, and normal NFL timing rules apply.

(4) Standard scrimmage play rules apply.

(5) If the offense reaches the line to gain, the offense retains possession of the ball and the customary rules are in effect. If the defense stops the offense, the defense assumes possession at the resulting yard line of the play.

(6) If the offense is penalized on the one scrimmage down (4th and 15), the offense cannot elect to then kickoff after the penalty is enforced. Example: the kicking team may not elect to kick after incurring a holding penalty on the one scrimmage down.

(7) Scrimmage kicks are prohibited.

(8) Nothing in this exception prohibits a team from attempting a legal onside kickoff under Rule 6.