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MT5: The punt and the kickoff are the most dangerous plays in the game

Murphy Takes 5 is a monthly column written by President and CEO Mark Murphy

P Pat O'Donnell
P Pat O'Donnell

On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at:

I returned on Wednesday from the NFL Annual Meetings in Phoenix. The meeting presents a rare opportunity for owners, general managers, head coaches and other executives (from the teams and the league office) to come together. A highlight of the meeting is the discussion of proposed rule changes. In recent years, the focus of many of the proposed rule changes has been to make the game safer.

This year was no different, with an emphasis on making the punt and the kickoff safer. The punt and the kickoff are the most dangerous plays in the game. It has been that way for many years, but the spread between injuries on kicks over other plays has increased recently. Kickoffs represent only 6% of the overall plays, but 14% of the concussions. Also, 20% of concussions and ACL tears occur on punts and kickoffs.

The issue with kicks is the speed and space of the plays that result in high-speed collisions. The challenge for the league is to make the play (i.e. the return) safer rather than just having fewer returns. By moving the kickoff up to the 35-yard line (from the 30) years ago, touchbacks have increased. The ball is now placed at the 25-yard line rather than the 20 to encourage returners to stay in the end zone. There were two proposals this year that both involved fair catches on kicks that would have placed the ball on the 25-yard line. Again, the thought was to minimize the number of returns, although the returner does have the option to try to return the ball past the 25. Neither proposal passed, and the proposal for fair catches on kickoffs was tabled, and the league office will work with special-teams coaches on ways to make the punt and the kickoff safer and keep the kick return in the game.

In my mind, there is no more exciting play in the NFL than a long kickoff or punt return for a touchdown. I hope the special-teams coaches can come up with options that will keep the play (and the return) in the game. The XFL had a creative solution for the kickoff (the kicker kicks off from the 30-yard line and the kickoff coverage team is many yards ahead of him and 10-yards from the return team). The results thus far have been encouraging from a safety (and return) standpoint.

Ryan from Bloomer, WI.

Mr. Murphy, a comment and a question if you please. One of the things I love about this time of year is the Packers Tailgate Tour. I have been fortunate to see the tour pass through my small corner of Wisconsin on two occasions and can't wait to bring my son along to see you again in Eau Claire. Thank you for keeping this fantastic tradition going! My question comes from your one-on-one interview with The Rock. You quickly mentioned player health and safety being the biggest challenge facing the league, while also mentioning how concussions increased last year. Despite more and more measures being taken every year to protect the head, can you expand on why we would see an increase in concussions?

Thanks, Ryan, and I look forward to seeing you in Eau Claire. The Tailgate Tour is one of the things that makes our organization unique – the special connection between our players and our fans. The Tour is set for April 11-15. We will travel from Green Bay to western and northern Wisconsin. Current players Aaron Jones, Elgton Jenkins and Romeo Doubs will be on the tour along with former players Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Eddie Lacy and Davon House. I really enjoy being able to spend time with our players, alumni and fans. With regard to your question, I think a couple of things are at play here. First, we obviously need to do a better job of encouraging players not to lead with their helmets. Also, the league now has spotters in the press box looking for players who might have suffered concussions, and those players are immediately pulled off the field and put in the concussion protocol. Finally, players are much more aware of the risks associated with concussions and are more likely to tell our doctors that they think they may have been concussed. We've also seen a number of players in recent years tell doctors that they think a teammate may have suffered a concussion.

Bob from Green Bay, WI.

Thanks for taking these questions from us Packers team owners. I see the NFL is wanting to be able to flex Sunday games to Thursday night games. The NFL has been making player safety a huge priority. Or so they say.... this push to be able to flex games to Thursday night says otherwise. This move is not taking player safety into account at all in my opinion. This also does not take into account fans who purchase tickets months in advance and put money down on hotels etc. only to have their plans changed by this which would have a huge impact on all. I understand the NFL is a business and the purpose of flexing is to try and put the best product out there, but to me, this will come at a big cost so hopefully, you all will look at this from all angles! Thanks again and Go Pack Go!!!!!!!!!

I'm glad you raised this issue, Bob. This topic was heavily debated at our league meeting. Television and television revenue are obviously very important to the league. The new Thursday night package on Amazon is especially important to the league – streaming is new to the league and we want Amazon to do well as all indications are that more and more people are using streaming services rather than network television. As you note, flexing Thursday night games will have a significant impact on fans and players, as well as coaches. The league has allowed flexible scheduling for Sunday Night Football for many years now, but moving a game from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night is a lot different than moving a Sunday game up to Thursday for the reasons you note. Moreover, we will allow flexing for Monday night games this year for the first time, so we don't know what issues may arise from this change. I believe that we do need to consider the fans in the stands, and how this would affect them – especially since so many of our fans travel a good distance to come to Lambeau Field and stay in hotels.

The proposed policy was amended to state that no team will be required to play more than two Thursday night games and at least one of the games will be a home game. The games will only be later in the season and the league will try to give as much notice as possible. I anticipate that there will be further discussion regarding this at our May meeting.

Ian S. from Vinton, IA

Hi Mr. Murphy,

I'm a diehard Packers fan, and I think you guys are doing an awesome job, but I've got a couple of questions for you. 1: Are there any big-name free agent targets you guys have been in contact within the front office, and if so, who? 2: Is drafting a QB at any point during the NFL Draft a likely possibility?

Unfortunately, Ian, given our salary cap situation, we are not in a position to sign any big-name free agents. That doesn't mean that we will not sign some very good players, though. We also lost some players who have played well for us over the years. A key priority for us was keeping Keisean Nixon – an all-NFL returner for us and a good defensive back. We've also signed a few other free agents. There is a lot of time left between now and training camp. I'm confident that between the draft and later signings we will add players that will fill what look now to be gaps. With regard to drafting a QB, it's really hard to say – it will depend on how we have various QBs rated and how our board falls.

John from Wauwatosa, WI.

I've had the NFL Sunday Ticket for years and love it. I read that the Sunday Ticket will now be on YouTube rather than DirecTV. What can you tell me about this change?

I also had the Sunday Ticket for years, John, and loved it. As with much in our society, the technology in this area has changed rapidly. I'll never forget when I first signed up for the Sunday Ticket and they put a satellite dish in my backyard in Hamilton, N.Y., and I could watch every game at 1 or 4:20! I think the new digital Sunday Ticket on YouTube and YouTube TV will be great for fans – and you don't have to worry about the satellite dish facing in the right direction. You can go to to find out how you can sign up for the Sunday Ticket. One interesting twist to YouTube is that they can't deliver games to commercial establishments (i.e., bars, restaurants, hotels), so the league has announced plans to partner with RedBird Capital to create a product that will work for these establishments.

Jane from Eau Claire, WI.

The NFL recently passed a rule prohibiting use of the helmet to the head-and-neck area. Didn't they already have a rule like this?

Good catch, Jane. It wasn't really a new rule – it was an edit of an existing rule. The previous rule had language about a player "lowering his head" and making contact with another player's head or neck. Officials found it difficult to officiate because the player wouldn't necessarily "lower" their head. There were only four "Use of Helmet" fouls called last year. The thought was that we want to take all helmet-to-helmet hits out of the game since they are dangerous to both the hitter and the hittee. This change will not only help the officials, but also league executives in the week following the game in determining whether to fine a player.

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