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What the Bills are saying about the new kickoff format + other rule changes for the 2024 NFL season

Buffalo Bills vs Dallas Cowboys, Regular Season, December 17, 2023 at Highmark Stadium.
Buffalo Bills vs Dallas Cowboys, Regular Season, December 17, 2023 at Highmark Stadium.

League owners voted Tuesday morning to approve a significant rule change regarding the kickoff, adopting a low-impact kickoff based on a model previously used in the XFL.

29 of the NFL's 32 teams voted for the rule change.

The league believes the rule change will increase the number of returned kickoffs while decreasing the number of injuries.

"The two hot areas that we need to address are some of the injury data that's coming off of the play, one, and then two is: this needs to be a real play," said Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott to SiriusXM at the NFL owners meetings. "That's how the game was constructed years and years ago and keeping the form and structure of that in our game is important. That the fans can see an exciting play but it doesn't go to extremes."

Players on the kicking team will not be allowed to have a running start, five players must be on each side of the ball and at least two players must be positioned outside the numbers and two between the numbers and hash.

On the receiving side, at least nine players on the receiving team will line up in a "setup zone" located between the 30- and 35-yard lines. Two players will line up downfield as returners.

Players from the kickoff team will not be permitted to move until the ball lands inside the "landing zone" located inside the receiving team's 20-yard line. If the ball fails to go past the 20, the receiving team will get the ball on their own 40-yard line as if the ball had been kicked out of bounds. Kicks landing in the end zone or goes out the back is a touchback to the 30 and any kick that lands within the landing zone must be returned or downed by the receiving yard for a touchback to the 20-yard line.

Another major change is to the onside kick, which will not be allowed to take place until the fourth quarter begins and a team is trailing. Then, current onside kickoff rules would apply but the trailing team must declare an onside kick to the officials.

"This would affect personnel and then the time spent as a coaching staff just with schematics now, right? How do you practice it?" McDermott said. "You may not see it totally until the first week of the regular season because people hold their cards rather tight."

Brandon Beane cited this year's Super Bowl, in which none of the 13 kickoffs were returned, as a reason behind the league's attempts to make the play more exciting.

"If you're a fan you're like, 'Why are they doing this?'" Beane said on The Pat McAfee Show. "I think there is going to be some tinkering and potentially even tinkering after a couple games when we see what happens in the preseason."

McDermott said, before the rule change was official, that the new kickoff rules could affect the Bills' offseason plans in signing or drafting players who could serve as kick returners.

"When you look at the kickoff rule, if that goes through, you're gonna need someone to occupy that spot – or maybe more than one," McDermott said.

One potential option at kick returner could be newly signed receiver Curtis Samuel, who served as one of Carolina's kick returners in 2017 and 2018.

"We see him as a guy that, yes, can line up in the backfield, can line up at receiver, gadgets, he could be a returner for us," Beane said.

A full summary of the kickoff play proposal, which is approved for next season only, can be found here.

Buffalo Bills vs New York Jets, Regular Season, November 19, 2023 at Highmark Stadium.

In addition to the kickoff rule, three other rule changes were approved Monday and other updates to the NFL schedule were announced Tuesday.

  • "Swivel hip-drop" tackles will now result in a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down, one of three rules approved Monday.
    • A swivel hip-drop tackle occurs when a defender "grabs the runner with both hands or wraps the runner with both arms" and also "unweights himself by swiveling and dropping his hips and/or lower body, landing on and trapping the runner's leg(s) at or below the knee.
    • The swivel hip-drop tackle has caused lower-body injuries in the past. NFL executive vice president Jeff Miller said there were 230 instances of swivel hip-drop tackles last season and 15 players missed time as a result.
    • "It's trying to see things through the eyes or the lens of what's best for the league, what's best for the game and not just what's best for the Buffalo Bills or what's best for defense versus offense," McDermott said. "At the end of the day, we've got to do what's best for the game and keeps the players as safe as possible."
  • Teams will now receive a third challenge should one of their first two challenges be ruled successful.
  • If there is a double foul during a down in which there is a change or changes of possession – including if one of the fouls is a post-possession foul by a team during a scrimmage kick – the team last gaining possession will keep the ball after enforcement for its foul, provided it did not foul before last gaining possession.
  • The trade deadline has been moved to the Tuesday after the Week 9 games. Previously, the deadline was before Week 8.
  • Clubs can elevate a bona fide quarterback (one who wears a quarterback number and has typically played the position) an unlimited number of times from its practice squad to its Active List to be its emergency third quarterback.
  • There will be two games played on Christmas Day despite it being on a Wednesday.
  • Amazon will air a Wild Card playoff game next season.
  • HBO's in-season edition of "Hard Knocks" will follow four teams within one division.

McDermott was named to the league's Competition Committee in the offseason, taking part in conversations that shape each rule change in today's game.

"I've enjoyed it - thoroughly enjoyed it," McDermott said. "Appreciate the guidance that I've been given in the room of how things work. I've tried to do a lot of listening and yet add my opinion on things where it's been called for. ... I think it helps me also in the job I'm currently in, be a better head coach because of the information that you're around in those meetings."

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