NFL rule changes: The good, the bad and the ugly

The NFL made a number of moves recently that will impact everything from how the game is played on the field, how it is consumed by fans off it and even how teams are constructed.

Looking at five of those changes, let's play a game of "Love it or Hate it."

New kickoff rule: Love it

So this is going to be jarring, even if it was needed. The kickoff had become mostly a waste of time as kickers blasted balls through the end zone. Just over 22 percent of kicks were returned last year. When they were, the full-speed collisions made the play prime for injuries.

The NFL hopes the new rules — which are explained in more detail here — will produce an 80 percent kick return rate and bring some excitement back to the play. It also should be safer.

That said, this is a dramatic reworking of how the game has always been played and will take a little getting used to seeing. It also eliminates the unexpected onside kick — teams can still call for an onside kick and line up like the old system. Of course, only three or four unexpected onside kicks were even attempted in recent seasons, so it isn’t much of a loss.

Is this better? Probably. Most football people think it will help and since almost nothing is being lost, we’ll go with a love it … albeit after a bit of adjustment.

Christmas Day games: Love it

The NFL’s three games played on Christmas 2023 averaged 28.68 million viewers and peaked at numbers nearing 40 million. That’s a lot of people sitting around on Christmas looking to watch pro football, so good for pro football to give the people what they want.

Thanksgiving is almost synonymous with the NFL. So why not Christmas? The concepts are the same, often family gatherings and people in need of entertainment. The NBA filled the void for years, but anything the NFL does dwarfs the NBA, so it’s basketball’s loss.

Is playing on a Wednesday this year clunky? Sure. The league should be able to work around that though with some creative scheduling. Will the quality of play suffer a bit? Maybe. We’ll see. Meanwhile, the other years will be easier, if not seamless.

Giving a football-mad country the games they want when they are free to watch them is a win. The NFL on Christmas is here to stay and that’s a good thing.

Banning the hip drop tackle: TBD

The NFL describes the tackle as when a player “grabs the runner with both hands or wraps the runner with both arms” before the tackler “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 move can be dangerous and so in the interest of player safety, it will now result in a 15-yard penalty.

Making the game safer without impacting the game itself is a worthy goal, both for the health of the players and the fact that cutting down on long-term injuries that sideline stars is bad for business.

That said, it will be controversial when critical defensive stops are reversed via a 15-yard penalty that may not be so easy to determine and define in the speed of the game. There are already (in my opinion) too many of those via mostly inconsequential facemask grabs.

Moreover, football is an inherently dangerous game and this style of tackling has seemingly grown in popularity to take away shots to the head or the legs. Is this really “safer” in the long run?

File this under a wait-and-see approach on whether it actually decreases injuries without adversely impacting how defenses can play.

For now … TBD.

The NFL has banned the
The NFL has banned the "swivel" technique of the hip-drop tackle, similar to this one that injured Ravens tight end Mark Andrews last season. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Friday season opener on Peacock: Hate it

Philadelphia's season opener will be played in Brazil, on a Friday night and broadcast exclusively on a pay-for streaming channel.

Hating this has nothing to do with the Brazil part; if the NFL is going to continue its International Series (and it is), then getting to Sao Paulo is long overdue. The NFL is very popular in the country and those fans will go wild for the chance to see a game in person. You can certainly understand why the NFL wants a stronger foothold in a country of over 200 million. Moreover, the time zone is not an issue like it is with games in Europe.

That said, there are plenty of other issues.

First off, Friday night? Totally unnecessary. Thursday and Sundays and Mondays are enough. This is a one-off, but the NFL tends to test and then seize. Leave Fridays for high school football, which needs both the cultural relevance of the big home game to attract kids to play and then the revenue from live gates to fund the operation. The NFL benefits from strong high school football. Don’t mess with it.

Second, all openers should be played in the United States and reward the football-starved fans of Philly with the chance to return to action. Losing a midseason game to an international city is frustrating enough, but it feels different.

Most problematic, however, is the game being exclusive to Peacock. The league placed the Miami-Kansas City wild card game last year on the streaming service and it clearly produced enough benefit to NBC that this trend will continue. It’s not a positive development.

Fans don’t need more ways that they have to pay to watch the NFL. This is a money grab for a league already awash in money. No one benefits. As more and more games go to pay streaming services, it decreases both access to the games on “free” television and also dilutes the value of paid elements such as the Sunday Ticket.

No one is winning here except NBC and league coffers.

Trade deadline moved back: Love it

Teams will now be able to make trades after Week 9, instead of a Week 8 trade deadline. There is nothing to not love about this except after Week 10 might have been even better.

For too long the NFL has shied away from trades, let alone the trade deadline, and left all the fun of late-season acquisitions to the NBA, MLB and NHL.

Adding some drama and speculation to roster moves in the middle of the season is a positive. Everyone loves that. Additionally, this gives teams one more week to evaluate their playoff chances or make a move based on filling a need created by injury.

The downside? There doesn’t seem to be any unless your general manager mortgages the future on a late-season gamble that doesn’t pan out. But that’s on him.

Love it.