Sometimes, one play, one moment, one decision can change everything — or maybe only a little bit. Either way, it can be fun to imagine the various timelines if one thing had gone differently. SB Nation NFL is looking at those hypotheticals, alternate universes, and made-up scenarios in our second annual “What If?” week. You can follow along with every story here.
The NFL doesn’t need kickers. Kickers are an anchor that keep football from achieving its purest, most entertaining form.
Imagine a world where every touchdown is followed by a two-point conversion. Or where coaches take more shots at the end zone when their teams are in scoring range. The games would be a bit more random, force coaches to be more aggressive, and it would make football safer.
Realistically, this would never happen. Kickers have been around since the start of football, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
This isn’t a call for all kickers to lose their jobs, either. It’s merely an opportunity to think about what a kicker-less game of football would look like and the benefits that would come from that.
It’d force coaches to keep their foot on the gas
Getting rid of kickers would add an element of surprise to the game. Even though extra points were moved from an 18-yard to a 33-yard kick in 2015, the vast majority of extra-point tries are good. In 2018, 94.3 percent of the 1,235 extra point attempts were made.
Two-point conversions are much more random — and less common. Last year, teams scored on 51.2 percent of their two-point conversions out of only 129 attempts.
Based on the gamble, two-point conversions can be a bit controversial at times, even though they shouldn’t be. For example, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur went for two against the Falcons last year when his team was down eight in the fourth quarter. The decision was criticized in real time, but the numbers support going for two in that situation.
In late-game situations, trailing teams should be going for two if they’re down by a touchdown or more. What Shurmur did should be the standard practice in the NFL. Right now, there are too many coaches who opt for the conservative field goal over the two-point try — even if it’s not the right choice.
If field goals are eliminated entirely, making that choice won’t be an issue.
An NFL without kickers would also pressure coaches into taking more risks with their playcalling.
Let’s rewind the clock back to 2015 for an example. The Falcons were down, 17-13, to the 49ers and had a decision to make with about three minutes left in the game. Atlanta drove down to the 49ers’ 1-yard line and faced a fourth down. Instead of trying to score a 1-yard touchdown, the Falcons inexplicably kicked a 19-yard field goal and lost the game 17-16.
The decision was so damn bad that making the field goal actually reduced the Falcons’ chance to win the game.
We can help coaches out by removing the decision for them.
No kickoffs are a safety positive
The NFL is already close to eliminating kickoffs. In 2018, Packers president Mark Murphy noted players are “five times” more likely to get injured on a kickoff than any other play. Murphy also said if kickoffs don’t continue to become safer that the competition committee is “going to do away with it.”
So we might as well go all the way with it.
The league has taken steps to make kickoffs safer in recent years. In 2011, the NFL moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line in order to create more touchbacks. One study found the rate of concussions on kickoffs dropped dramatically after that.
Then the NFL added more rules before the 2018 season that got rid of wedge blocks and forced automatic touchbacks when the ball hit the end zone.
That dropped the total number of kickoff returns from 1,036 in 2017 to 970 returns in 2018. Both of those numbers were far fewer than the 2,033 kickoff returns during the 2010 season, before the rule change about where kickoffs start.
Those were good moves by the NFL. Football is already dangerous — cutting down on plays where 11 players are running full speed at each other is really just common sense.
The nature of kickoffs will always create supercharged collisions that result in players being broken. An NFL with no kickers wouldn’t have these problems; the now-defunct AAF experimented with stopping kickoffs and it worked out well on the field.
You might be wondering what happens to specialists without kickoffs. Well, it would give them more time to perfect the craft of the position they play instead of being crash dummies.
The 11-on-11 battle between offenses and defenses is what draws fans to the games. These are the players we should be spotlighting, and right now, that’s not always the case.
Giving non-kicker players more influence over the game would be a good thing
Of course you don’t. But you might remember a blooper reel of the two offenses trying, and epically failing, to convert fourth downs. The current state of football is robbing us of being able to meme moments like that while coaches get to play it safe and take field goals.
Football should be decided by the players who are taking the brunt of the beating during the game. It’s frustrating when a long, physical game comes down to someone who’s on the field for just a few plays.
Field goals can change the course of a season, especially in the playoffs when a make or miss settles which team advances to the next round. We just saw two playoff games come down to kicks a few months ago.
Bears kicker — well, former kicker now — Cody Parkey famously missed a 43-yard field goal in the Wild Card Round against the Eagles. The Saints lost on a field goal in overtime of the NFC Championship Game after Drew Brees was forced into throwing an interception. The Rams moved the ball 15 yards in four plays before hitting a 57-yard field goal to send them to Super Bowl 53.
That was just last season. Think about all the other times we’ve seen playoff games end with a kicker. Blair Walsh’s shank against the Seahawks after the 2015 season, Scott Norwood’s “Wide Right” costing the Bills Super Bowl XXV, and Mike Vanderjagt’s miss against the Steelers in the 2005 playoffs are all painful examples of games being lost on kicks.
Let the guys who play offense and defense decide these games. Make an offensive or defensive coordinator come up with a kickass playcall to determine their fate. Create an NFL where being aggressive is required of a head coach.
It would sure beat watching a field goal attempt.