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John Mara: NFL “evolving toward” eliminating kickoffs

Brad Smith

New York Jets’ Brad Smith (16 ) returns the opening kickoff past Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Mundy (29) and kicker Shaun Suisham for a touchdown in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)


The NFL’s decision last year to move kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 may have been the first step toward moving kickoffs out of football completely.

That’s the word from Giants owner John Mara, a Competition Committee member who says the conversations have already started about potentially taking the play that has started every football game in history out of the league for good.

“We had a lot of discussions about whether we should eliminate it and if we did what we could do in its place,” Mara told “There’s no consensus on it right now, but I could see the day in the future where that play could be taken out of the game. You see it evolving toward that.”

Mara says the Competition Committee’s top priority is player safety, and that the increase in touchbacks last year coincided with a decrease in concussions. In the eyes of the league office and NFL owners, that proves that moving the kickoff was the right idea.

What’s unclear is what would take the place of the kickoff if it ceased to exist. Mara says the NFL won’t eliminate the kickoff until it has the right plan for how to get rid of it, but he seems to think the kickoff is just a fundamentally unsafe play.

“Nobody would go that far now, but we talk about different blocks that we can outlaw,” Mara said. “The problem is that the concussions come from everywhere, from the wedge, from the crossing blocks where a guy goes from one side of the field to another, from a full speed collision between a return guy and a tackler. So there’s no one thing that you can do. It’s something that we’ll continue to watch as closely as possible.”

If the NFL were to eliminate the kickoff, it would likely adopt a rule that after every touchdown or field goal the other team gets the ball at the 20-yard line, and that each half starts with one team getting the ball at the 20 as well. A bigger question is whether onside kicks would continue to exist: Late-game strategy would change significantly if the onside kick was no longer an option.

But make no mistake: The NFL is serious enough about cutting down on injuries on kickoffs that last year’s rules change won’t be the last one.

“There was no support for moving the kickoff back to the 30 yard-line,” Mara said.

And some day, there may be no support for having kickoffs at all.