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NFL to Discuss Future of Kickoff at May 1st Summit - This Is Sports Zone

The NFL is finalizing plans for a summit to continue an unprecedented offseason discussion about player safety, a league spokesman confirmed. The meeting, planned for May 1-2 at NFL headquarters in New York, will include a focus on the future of the kickoff. There is no indication that the kickoff could be eliminated for this season. But the league has moved with uncommon speed in recent months to address a league-record 291 diagnosed concussions in 2017, as well as the serious spine injury suffered by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier.

Owners have approved a rule that would penalize and potentially eject players for lowering their heads to initiate contact. For the first time, the league joined the NFL Players Association to ban the use of 10 helmet models. The NFL office is also preparing a team-by-team memorandum to address a spike in training camp concussions. The kickoff has long been a source of concern for NFL medical staffs. The league’s competition committee sounded new alarms in March after receiving data that showed concussions were five times more likely to occur on kickoffs than other plays, even after a series of minor rule changes designed to reduce returns.

Green Bay Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy, a member of the committee, said the league was planning a special-teams summit — the one now confirmed for May 1-2 — to issue a clear warning. “If you don’t make changes to make it safer,” Murphy said, “we’re going to do away with it. It’s that serious. It’s by far the most dangerous play in the game.”

An attendance list for the summit, which will also include discussion on the safety of interior line play, has not yet been finalized. Longtime NFL special-teams ace Steve Tasker, now a CBS broadcaster, recently told the Buffalo News that he had been invited. In addition to former players, the meeting is expected to include team executives, along with current and former coaches.

Commissioner Roger Goodell frequently convenes similar cross-discipline summits. They have not concluded with a rule or policy change. Instead, they are designed to provide background for future competition committee discussions. Goodell hosted two such meetings in recent years before the league rewrote its catch rule this spring. A similar gathering early in the 2017 offseason eventually led to a relaxation of post-touchdown celebration rules.

At issue with the kickoff is whether any realistic ideas remain for making the play safer beyond the steps the league already has taken. The league has spent much of this decade tweaking rules to reduce returns, and thus minimize the chances of injury, while also eliminating violent wedge-blocking schemes. In 2017, only 40 percent of kickoffs were returned. The rest were either touchbacks, went out of bounds or were impacted by another penalty.

The NFL’s next inflection point for possible rule changes will come at its spring meeting, scheduled for May 21-23 in Atlanta. One of the items already on that agenda is finalizing the process by which players will be considered for ejection when penalized for lowering their helmets to initiate contact.

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