Updated May 28, 2020 - 5:36 pm
The NFL on Thursday tabled a rule proposal that would have given teams the ability to maintain possession after a scoring drive by converting a fourth-and-15 from their own 25-yard-line.
League executives gave many reasons why they side-stepped the proposal — while leaving open the possibility of a revised motion. They said a major concern was the advantage it would give to teams that have elite quarterbacks.
Among the rules the owners did approve Thursday during a virtual league meeting:
■ Making permanent the expansion of automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any point-after attempt.
■ Expansion of the defenseless player protection to a kickoff or punt returner who is in possession of the ball but who has not had time to avoid impending contact.
■ Prevention of teams manipulating the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls with time running.
The NFL also extended virtual offseason training activities (OTAs) for at least another two weeks, which takes the offseason program into early June and targets next week for coaching staffs to return to team facilities.
“I think this offseason has looked a lot different than it has in the past but we are proud to see activities such as our free agency, the league year, the off-season programs and of course the Draft, demonstrate that we can operate in new and innovative ways so we are prepared for the 2020 season,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
The onside kick rule garnered the most attention, though.
In tweaking the NFL kickoff rules in 2018 — to cut down on injuries — the league essentially muted the onside kick for teams trying to retain possession.
To offset that, a proposal was crafted that would give teams the opportunity to convert an untimed fourth-and-15 play. Conversion meant keeping the ball; getting stopped gave possession of the ball to the defending team at the spot of the dead ball.
It appeared headed to a vote Thursday, but an ensuing conversation that lasted about 30 minutes prior to the vote. Enough questions arose that league officials tabled the proposal to get certain aspects ironed out.
■ The uneasiness of giving a team a chance to not only convert a first down to keep possession on an untimed play, but also the opportunity to score on touchdown by completing a pass that goes the length of the field.
“If I onside kick and I recover, I can’t advance for a touchdown, whereas, in this play, I can throw it and I can go the entire distance and score in an untimed down,” explained Rich McKay, Atlanta Falcons CEO and the chair of the competition committee. “That’s never been allowed in an onside kick play, so you’ve got to talk about is that too much of an advantage? I hate to call it an advantage, but is that too much of a new increased advantage given to this team that just scored? I don’t know. We will have to look at it.
■ Creating a scenario that would lesson that would “make a comeback too easy,” McKay said.
“You’ve worked hard all game to be ahead, and you don’t want a rule change to come in and all of a sudden say, ‘We’re going to completely change the odds of you being able to preserve that lead’,” McKay said.
But it seems like some owners wondered if this rule would create an unfair advantage for the teams with the best quarterbacks.
In fact, one person on the conference call joked that, “Those who have Hall of Fame quarterbacks should be excluded from this discussion,” according to Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations.
Incidentally, league MVP Patrick Mahomes was 4 of 8 passing for 47 yards in 10 plays that the Kansas City Chiefs needed exactly 15 yards for a first down last season — none for a first down.
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was the best in the NFL in that scenario, completing 9 of 10 passes for 164 yards in the 11 plays the Chargers needed exactly 15 yards for a first down. The Chargers converted five first downs in those situations, a 45 percent conversion rate.
However, of the 43 plays Mahomes and the Chiefs needed between 15 and 30 yards for a first down, he completed 31 of 40 passes for 507 yards while converting eight first downs for a conversion rate of 18.6 percent.
Leaguewide, the first-down conversion rate on the 572 total plays in which teams needed exactly 15 yards for first was 14 percent.
Conversely, in onside kick situations since the NFL changed its kickoff rules, the kicking team is 11-for-109 in regaining possession.