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NFL players don't want kickoffs to get the boot

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NFL players don't want kickoffs to get the boot

DENVER (AP) The eight teams left in the NFL playoffs can thank their special teams for a good part of their success. That's one reason players are still upset Commissioner Roger Goodell has floated the idea of abolishing kickoffs altogether.

Baltimore Ravens return specialist Jacoby Jones, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, said if the league gets rid of the electrifying plays, ``I'm going to retire. I will go (ballistic). ... If they take out kickoffs, they're going to hate me in this league.''

The idea is only a suggestion, one Goodell says the league will consider in the offseason for safety reasons, but players are vehemently opposed to such a radical change they contend would shake the foundation of America's most popular sport.

``I haven't found anybody that likes the idea, because, first of all, the sport is called football, so you can't keep taking the foot part of it out,'' Denver Broncos punter Britton Colquitt said. ``It would also be really confusing if they were like, `Stay tuned for kickoff,' and there was no kickoff, you know? What are they going to say, `Stay tuned for the start of the game'?

``Boooring!''

Abolishing kickoffs would also eliminate the onside kick as an option - like the one the New Orleans Saints used to turn the tide against the Indianapolis Colts coming out of halftime in the Super Bowl three years ago - and it would prune some pizazz from the game, like Desmond Howard's kickoff return for a touchdown that gave Brett Favre his only championship ring in the mid-1990s.

Of the 13 kickoff-return TDs this season, seven came from teams that reached the playoffs as the Ravens, Colts, Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Vikings all sported resumes that boasted at least one of the backbreakers.

Players say rules changes like banning the blocking wedge, moving the kickoff up five yards and limiting the number of players who can line up on one side of the ball for an onside kick have already lessened the number of violent collisions in games and they wonder if messing with the kickoffs is simply going too far.

``If you've got to do something about it, if you still feel like it's injuries, then move it up to the 40 and then it's like 99 percent of the time it's going to be a touchback,'' Colquitt suggested.

That way, the onside kick would still be an option.

``But you even see the returners, they're returning the ball from deeper in the end zone than they used to because they want to return it,'' Colquitt said. ``They're not out there in fear for their life, they're not saying, `I don't want to do this.'''

Indeed, there were eight 100-yard kickoff-return touchdowns in 2012, the most of any season in NFL history.

``Bringing one out, how is that unsafe? It's football,'' Jones said. ``Everybody doesn't take them out from 8 yards deep, but I take my chances because I have fun. And I have guys in front of me that do a heck of a job blocking. We take care of each other and roll with the punches.''

The NFL has made safety a top priority in recent years as it faces lawsuits by thousands of former players who say the league withheld information on the harmful effects of concussions. According to an AP review of 175 lawsuits, 3,818 players have filed suit. At least 26 Hall of Famers are among the players who have done so.

Two years ago, the league moved the kickoff from the 30 to the 35-yard line to cut down on violent collisions, and that has resulted in far more touchbacks and, the league says, a lot fewer head injuries.

The average number of kickoff returns since the rule change has fallen to 1,385 a season from about 2,100 per year before the change, according to STATS LLC.

``We continue to look for other ways to take the head out of the game,'' Goodell said in a recent speech at Harvard. ``Two years ago we moved the kickoff line five yards forward to the 35. That reform yielded real benefits - a 40 percent reduction in concussions last year on kickoffs. College football then adopted our rule. Some think that the kickoff, the play with the highest injury rate, should be eliminated from the game or modified even further.''

Tampa Bay first-year coach Greg Schiano suggested to Goodell that instead of kickoffs, teams would have the option of punting from the 30-yard line or going for a first down in a fourth-and-15 situation. Schiano witnessed one of his players at Rutgers, Eric LeGrand, get paralyzed on a kickoff in 2010.

Goodell has called Schiano's idea ``interesting.''

Browns kicker Phil Dawson believes it's illogical.

``I'm all for player safety,'' Dawson said recently. ``I do think the NFL has done a good job in the past, like with the wedge rule. This suggestion doesn't add up. It doesn't address what they say the dangers are because punts are just as violent. There aren't going to be any touchbacks. How many times have you seen a punt returner waiting for the ball to come down and the gunner just kills him? It doesn't make sense to me.''

Without the kickoff, teams trailing in the waning minutes would have to convert fourth-and-long following a score instead of attempting an onside kick.

Interestingly, since 2005, the onside kick conversion rate has been 19.7 percent, while the rate for fourth-and-15 has been 19.2 percent, according to STATS.

Eliminating kickoffs would also get rid of the onside kick as a strategic surprise, the kind the Saints used to win the Super Bowl.

Then, there's the whole issue of job security for special teams.

``That's how some people make it in the NFL,'' Jones said. ``If it wasn't for kickoff and punt returns, I probably would have had a shot at making it, but that's my best asset. What about Devin Hester?''

The idea of abolishing one of the game's most exciting aspects certainly irritates Trindon Holliday, who has returned both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns for Denver this season.

``I don't like it. He's messing with some of the players' livelihoods,'' said Holliday, who pointed to teammate Omar Bolden, a rookie cornerback who had nine special teams tackles and a 19.3-yard kickoff return average, as an example of a young player making his mark on special teams while biding his time behind veteran players on defense.

Teams will always need a fourth receiver or a third running back, so their jobs won't necessarily go away. But their opportunities to contribute, make an impression in games and earn more playing time from scrimmage certainly will, suggested Broncos receiver Matthew Willis, who earns his activation on game days primarily for his contributions on all of Denver's special teams units.

Opportunities. Onside kicks. Electrifying returns.

It's just too much to take from the game, Colquitt said.

``Sometimes there's too many things that people try to change when if it ain't broke, don't fix it,'' he said. ``I know it's all because of injuries, but I think there's a lot more guys getting hurt on offense and defense than in the kicking game.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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AP Sports Writers David Ginsburg and Tom Withers contributed.

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Joe Flacco passes physical, is set to become Broncos' latest addition to QB carousel

Joe Flacco passes physical, is set to become Broncos' latest addition to QB carousel

Joe Flacco's journey out West is making progress.

The 34-year-old was in Denver last week and passed his physical with the Broncos, according to sources of Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, clearing a path for their trade with the Ravens to become official when the new league year begins March 13.

In a move that was expected as the team made it clear 2018 first-round pick Lamar Jackson is its future, the Ravens are reportedly sending Flacco to the Broncos for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Based off of one observant flyer at Denver International Airport, the former Super Bowl MVP flew commercial out of Denver in a very Flacco-like move.

'Joe Cool' will presumably be the Broncos' fourth starting quarterback in three seasons and the latest addition to their quarterback carousel.

The Broncos drafted Brock Osweiler 57th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, starting just seven games over four seasons and was eventually re-signed in 2017 where he only started four games. Then they drafted Trevor Siemian in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft, starting 24 games during the 2016-17 season, before trading up in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft for Paxton Lynch, who earned four starts in two seasons. They traded for Mark Sanchez in 2016, but he never made it to the regular season.

And finally, the Broncos signed free agent Case Keenum in 2018 to a two-year, $36 million deal. Keenum started all 16 games this season, going 365-for-586 for 3,890 yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. However, general manager John Elway is now making room for Flacco for at least the next year. 

Flacco, who the Ravens drafted with the 18th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, has no guaranteed money left with the Ravens and is working on a one-year, $18.5 million deal with two-team option years following that. It's not a bad deal for a team that can't commit to a starting QB. 

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The timeline of Joe Flacco's 11 seasons with the Ravens

The timeline of Joe Flacco's 11 seasons with the Ravens

The Joe Flacco era in Baltimore is coming to an end.

After 11 seasons with the team, the Ravens are reportedly trading Flacco to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-round pick. 

While the move wasn't shocking, it's not often a quarterback keeps a residency with one organization for that amount of time.

Over those years, Flacco has experienced the highest of highs and a few major lows. Let's take a look back at his time with the Ravens.

April 26, 2008: The Ravens drafted Flacco with the No.18 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. A low-profile quarterback out of Delaware, the only other first-round quarterback in that draft was Boston College's Matt Ryan at No. 3 to the Atlanta Flacons.

September 7, 2008: Flacco's first-career game as the Ravens' QB. Completing 15-of-29 attempts for 129 yards, the rookie led his team to a 17-10 win over the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. In the win, Flacco also recorded his first-career rushing touchdown on a career-long 38-yard run. It was also the longest rushing TD by a rookie quarterback in their debut. 

January 2009: After finishing the 2008 season 11-5 and second in the AFC North, Flacco led the Ravens past the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card Round and past the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Round before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-14 in the AFC Championship Round. It was the first time since the 2000 season the Ravens advanced to the conference championship game. Flacco finished his rookie season with 2,791 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

2009 season: Flacco became the fourth starting QB since the 1970 merger to reach the playoffs in their first two seasons. Easily beating the Patriots on the road, 33-14, the Ravens lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional Round, 20-3. 

2010 season: Flacco became the Ravens' all-time leader in every major passing category, throwing for 3,622 yards and 25 touchdowns with a career-high 93.6 QB rating. Finishing the season 12-4, the team lost in the AFC Divisional Round to the Steelers.

November 6, 2011: With 2:24 left in the fourth quarter and trailing 20-16, Flacco and the Ravens orchestrated a 92-yard drive to stun the Steelers at Heinz Field. Torrey Smith's 26-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left to seal the deal will go down as one of the best drives in Flacco's history

2011 playoffs: Flacco became the first quarterback since the 1970 merger to start a playoff game in his first four seasons and win a game each of those years. Finishing the season 312-of-542 for 3,610 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, the Ravens lost in the AFC Championship Round to the Patriots in heartbreaking fashion after kicker Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field goal attempt. 

2012 season: En route to winning Super Bowl XLVII and Super Bowl MVP, Flacco was 317-of-531 for 3,817 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Mounting one of the most memorable playoff runs ever, the QB was 73-of-126 for 1,140 yards and a 117.2 QB rating, becoming the second QB in NFL postseason history to throw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. In what will reportedly now be his new home, Flacco had one of the most memorable moments of his career in the 'Mile High Miracle.'

2013 season: In 16 games, Flacco set career-highs in attempts (614) and completions (362) and became the first player in franchise history to throw for 20,000 yards. 

2014 season: Flacco started all 16 games for the seventh-consecutive season and set career-highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdown passes (27). He became the first QB in NFL history to reach the postseason in six of his first seven years, with the Ravens offense setting a franchise single-season record in yards and points-scored, ranking eighth in the league. 

2015 season: Throwing for 2,791 yards and 14 touchdowns in the first ten games, Flacco sustained a season-ending knee injury against the then St. Louis Rams. The injury brought an end to his 122-consecutive regular season start streak, the sixth longest in NFL history entering 2018.

2016 season: Flacco threw for a single-season franchise record 4,317 yards in 2016 and set career highs in attempts (672), completions (436) and completion percentage (64.9). He also posted four 300-yard passing games and 20 touchdowns, including a career-long 95-yarder to wide receiver Mike Wallace Week 9 against the Steelers.

2017 season: Flacco's 3,141 yards and 18 touchdowns helped the Ravens have the ninth ranked points per game offense (29.4). Their postseason hopes came to a dramatic end with seconds to spare Week 17 against the Bengals.

2018 season: Flacco was 232-of-379 for 2,465 yards and 12 touchdowns before injuring his hip Week 9 against the Steelers. The QB would go on to miss four games before losing the starting job to rookie Lamar Jackson. 

February 13, 2019: The Ravens reportedly agree to trade Flacco to the Broncos in exchange for a fourth-round pick. 

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