There was a time when Kansas City Chiefs kick returner Dante Hall was one of the most exciting players in the NFL. A guy known for his playmaking ability on special teams, Hall was the, “X-Factor” for the Chiefs every time he touched the field. Some say that Hall paved the way for guys like Joshua Cribbs and Devin Hester. Guys who weren’t known for doing a great deal on offense until they excelled with their special teams duty. Careers like Hall, Hester and Cribbs are all in jeopardy, thanks to the NFL Competition Committee’s new proposal.
Although the NFL is currently going through the lockout, business is being handled as usual. Last week, the competition committee submitted a proposal that will change the advantage in kickoffs, moving the kickoff up to the 35-yard line and allowing touchbacks to start at the 25-yard line. The reason they are asking for the changes are to limit the injuries during kickoffs. While I understand the idea of trying to protect the players on the field, I think this is an awful change for many reasons.
It’s no secret the NFL is an offense-driven league. Rules have been implemented and enforced over the years to give offenses the advantage on the field. But giving them 5 more yards closer to the end zone shouldn’t be one more gift. Last year, the NFL enforced helmet hits from defenders and fined them at all-time high amounts. This is yet another swipe against teams who rely heavily on their defenses, such as the Steelers, Ravens, Packers and Giants. Now, giving them 5 more yards they already don’t need could cause a firestorm amongst defenders. With a current lockout going on, adding insult to injury is something the NFL should think about at this point. AT some point you have to wonder what’s the point of having a defense on the field at all. The Peyton Manning’s, Tom Brady’s and Drew Brees’ of the league don’t need 5 spotted yards. So why should other QBs not work hard to get it?
Another reason is the value of having a good place kicker, which no longer becomes a viable need. As a Ravens fan, I am totally against this, mainly because the value that Billy Cundiff adds to my team. In 2010, he tied the league record for touchbacks, but the new changes means there is nothing special about his 2010 fete, because it allows average and subpar kickers to have that same success. Giving kickoffs 5 extra yards means Billy Cundiff is no different the others, which means having a durable kicker is being diluted to simply a guy that can put points on the board.
And lastly, the players that I mentioned in the beginning of my post. Without their special teams play, guys like Cribbs, Hall and Hester may not have been able to get other opportunities on the field, which they have been able to do. All three have been Pro Bowlers due to their great special teams play, but if most kickers have the option of kicking touchbacks to those said guys, you that’s exactly what they will do to keep the ball out of their possession.
People tend tend to look past special teams and the importance of a good one. Plays on special teams are just as important, if not more, than what players on the offense and defense can do. Special teams generate field position, something both the offense and defense rely heavily on once they hit the field. To eliminate players from giving their team that added advantage because touchbacks would be 5 yards easier takes away from great plays, something that the game needs.
I realize the NFL is always looking to make the game better and safer. But there are some things that shouldn’t be touched. The old adage of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind. This is one of them. Taking away a special teamer’s ability to give his team an advantage means the Dante Halls of the world no longer make the cover of magazines. Hopefully the committee shoots this one down. Devin Hester, Joshua Cribbs and others who have used special teams to make a mark surely would agree.