clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

5 ways to fix onside kicks in the NFL

5 ways to fix onside kicks in the NFL, from free kicks to mascot fights.

New England Patriots v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The onside kick is broken. The NFL knows it’s broken — and nobody can agree on how to fix it. Once a last-gasp attempt for a stirring comeback, the onside kick is barely attempted anymore due to rule changes surrounding the hands team in order to increase safety.

For years the idea of a 4th-and-20 attempt has been floated, but never agreed upon. It seems we’re once more destined to start the 2023 season without an adjustment in play.

There are some significant risks to altering this. The concern appears to be whether an elite offensive team would begin to treat the 4th-and-20 attempt as a benefit, rather than a last-ditch effort — especially against poor defensive teams. Is there a limiting factor that could ensure a comeback opportunity, without it being a way to run up the score?

We decided to come up with our best, worst, and everything-in-between ideas for replacing the onside kick.

1st-and-Goal from the 20. Can only be used in the 4th quarter when trailing

The problem with the whole “4th and 20” concept is that it’s too easy. There are plenty of teams in modern offenses who can easily gain 20 yards on a single play without a lot of ways to answer it.

Now, you give a team four downs to make it 80 yards — that’s a risky challenge that would be fun as hell to watch. It’s not so easy that teams would reliably take the risk every game, but not so impossible that it wouldn’t be worth a team trying it if they have a defense on the ropes.

This would also give us a whole new stat to track. We already follow game-winning-drives and fourth quarter comebacks for quarterbacks, but it would be fun to see which receivers lead the league in catches and yardage on power drives. I’m calling this a “power drive” because it’s fun to say, and also a weird blend of football and the power play in hockey.

Force a 58-yard field goal attempt

What if we flipped the whole concept of a kickoff and put the onus back on the leading team? Here the trailing team would be allowed to concede the kickoff, instead forcing their opponents to take an immediate 58-yard field goal attempt.

A team obviously risks going down even more, but the benefit is that if the kick is missed short it can be returned or kneeled in the end zone. Instead of a true turnover on downs when it comes to field position, we’d treat a miss that’s long or out of bounds is as a touchback restart at the 20-yard-line.

The trailing team would then get a full set of downs to advance the ball, and we’d have more chances to get legendary kicking moments.

“Down one”

This idea is dumb, I know it is, but I also kind of love it. A team can choose to get a full set of downs from their 20 as many times as they want, but each time they take this option they permanently send off a player.

So if you want to make up one score a team your team is at a one man disadvantage. Two scores? Take off a second player. Three scores? Okay, this is dumb ... but you’re down three now.

It’s like pulling the goalie in hockey, but with more tactics.

At first on offense you’d probably lose your running back, but this also means taking away an offensive weapon. Would a team be willing to lose an offensive guard or a tackle and hope they could take plays out of the shotgun? Is there a scenario where a team down five scores suddenly only has a center and nobody else blocking?

Maybe! That’s really dumb, right? Or is it genius? [It’s dumb].


What if for one fleeting moment at a critical point in a season the mascot became the most important player on an organization? We would establish rules here where a team could only use one mascot a year, whose name is given to the NFL ahead of time. This prevents any ringers.

Then, when a team wants to get the ball back, the mascots from each team have to brawl in costume until one taps out. Teams without mascots hate fun, so they already forfeit the opportunity.

The winner of the mascot fight gets the ball at the 50 yard line. Place faith in these mascots and watch ‘em brawl.


We forget that this is a game. Football is for entertainment. Sure, there’s an argument to be made about how it’s not fair to dig yourself out of a 13-point hole with a couple of minutes remaining. But it’s also on the team leading to prevent their opponent from scoring.

The Eagles proposal where a team must go for it on 4th & 15 from their 25-yard line is as close to “fair” as it gets. But football isn’t fair. Let’s get that out of the way. There are numerous alternatives to an onside kick. Some are over-the-top, while others come off as far less dramatic. Again, it’s entertainment. Let’s have some fun with it.

The goal should be to do what we should’ve done ages ago: eliminate the kicker from the equation. Instead, let’s put this in the hands of the best players. So, let’s get ridiculous.

Remember the skills challenges they had in the Pro Bowl back in the day? We’re bringing that back. Kind of. There are three phases. We have a 1-on-1 between the best wide receiver and defensive back on each team. The same goes for offensive and defensive lineman. Finally, a throw off. Whichever quarterback is the most accurate throwing to three non-stationary targets wins.

If your team wins two of the three phases, congrats, you get the ball back.