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Proposed “4th and 15” onside kick alternative can only be used once in the 4th quarter

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The NFL’s steady eradication of kickoffs has notably included rule changes in 2018 that made onside kick recoveries go from “rarely recovered” to “very very rarely recovered.” With the onside kick on its last legs, there obviously needs to be some sort of solution that gives teams a fighting chance to retain possession after a scoring play.

By the end of this week, we could have our answer.

The Denver Broncos proposed an onside kick alternative that will be voted on by league owners at the end of this week. The alternative is converting 4th and 15 from your own 35-yard-line. If you convert, you keep the ball from where the play ended. A failure to convert means the opposition gets possession from wherever the ball is spotted at the end of the play.

Sounds simple enough and kind of exciting. 4th and 15 conversions have proven successful only 23% of the time over the past 20 seasons, but that’s still higher than the 7.1% success rate for onside kick recoveries under the 2018 rules.

But there’s a catch.

Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk got hold of the full text of the proposed rule, and you can’t just go for the 4th and 15 play whenever you’re in the mood to do so. In fact, “a team may elect once per game during the fourth period to play offense instead of a kickoff or safety kick.”

Here are the rest of the rules pertaining to the onside kick alternative:

The following rules will apply if such an election is made:

(1) The kicking team must notify the referee of its intention to forego a kickoff or safety kick for one offensive play. The referee will then notify the team that would otherwise be receiving the kickoff or safety kick.

(2) The ball will be spotted on the kicking team’s restraining line and the kicking team will have one scrimmage down on offense to gain 15 yards (4th and 15) to the line to gain. The sideline chain unit will be placed five yards ahead of A’s restraining line and the first down marker will be placed 15 yards from A’s restraining line (40 yard-line to the 50-yard line on a normal kickoff play when the restraining line is the 35-yard line).

(3) Play clock will be set to 25 seconds and winds on the ready for play signal. Game clock starts on the snap, and normal NFL timing rules apply.

(4) Standard scrimmage play rules apply.

(5) If the offense reaches the line to gain, the offense retains possession of the ball and the customary rules are in effect. If the defense stops the offense, the defense assumes possession at the resulting yard line of the play.

(6) If the offense is penalized on the one scrimmage down (4th and 15), the offense cannot elect to then kickoff after the penalty is enforced. Example: the kicking team may not elect to kick after incurring a holding penalty on the one scrimmage down.

(7) Scrimmage kicks are prohibited.

(8) Nothing in this exception prohibits a team from attempting a legal onside kickoff under Rule 6.

In the Alliance of American Football, teams have to convert 4th and 12 from their own 28-yard-line, but can only do so when trailing by at least 17 points in the final five minutes of the game. Here’s an example of a successful conversion.

The fact that “standard scrimmage rules” apply under Denver’s proposal indicates that you can actually score a touchdown on these 4th and 15 conversions, however unlikely that may prove to be.

It’s also interesting that this alternative doesn’t completely eliminate the onside kick — at least based on the wording of Rule 8 — so where you would need multiple onside kicks in previous years could then become “convert 4th and 15 once” + “onside kick recovery” in 2019.

Only New York Giants owner John Mara spurned the idea of the Competition Committee members. If at least 24 of the 32 team owners approves the proposal, we will see the rule change implemented this season.

In my opinion, you should be able to utilize the 4th and 15 alternative however many times you want, whenever you want. I suppose the NFL’s reasoning behind limiting it to a one-time, 4th quarter use is to not tilt things too heavily in favor of offenses, especially since conversions can be made through penalties.

We’ll keep an eye on this potential rule change and anything else brought up for a vote throughout the week, as the NFL’s Annual League meeting is underway.


Do you like Denver’s proposed onside kick alternative rule?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    (383 votes)
  • 18%
    (190 votes)
  • 30%
    Yes, but only if they tweak some things
    (320 votes)
  • 14%
    I don’t like anything Denver does
    (156 votes)
1049 votes total Vote Now