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MT5: Will the kickoff return survive?

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


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:

Watching the Super Bowl live in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, one thing really stood out to me – there wasn't a single kickoff return in the game. In fact, there wasn't a kickoff that was even close to being returned. In the domed Allegiant Stadium, both kickers were easily able to kick the ball into the stands behind the goal posts. In my mind, nothing is more boring in the game.

The issue with the kickoff return is that it is the most dangerous play in the game – by far (I was on the kickoff coverage unit my entire eight-year career with Washington, and we never knew it was a dangerous play!). With concerns regarding the health and safety of players, particularly as it relates to concussions, the league has taken steps in recent years to make the kickoff safer. The problem is that most of the changes (e.g., moving the kickoff up, allowing returners to fair catch the ball and have the ball placed at the 25-yard line) have resulted in fewer returns, not safer returns. This past season, only 22% of the kicks were returned, an all-time low.

The challenge is finding a way to keep the kickoff return in the game and make it safe. The XFL designed a rule for kickoffs that seems to be working. The XFL rule mandates that all players except for the kicker and the returner line up five yards apart (it makes the kickoff more like the punt). The rule has resulted in more returns and reduced high-speed collisions. The NFL's competition committee met recently and discussed the XFL kickoff at length. If the committee proposes a change similar to the XFL kickoff, it would be voted on by the owners at the annual league meeting in Orlando at the end of March. Twenty-four owners would have to vote in favor of the change for it to be approved.

Now, on to your questions.

Bill from Raleigh, NC

I didn't want to ask this question during the season, but maybe it's okay now. You had a long career as a defensive player. Do you think the three-man rush is a good strategy in third- or fourth-down and long-distance situations? It seems to me that most NFL QBs can deliver a highly accurate pass, even far downfield, if they don't have to worry much about the pass rush. While an extra DB improves the coverage, it is often not enough. I think we always want the defense to attack and force the QB to make a decision quickly. Did your team ever play three-man rush and what did you think about it?

You can ask questions like this any time of the year, Bill. I think one of the keys to being a good defense is to not be predictable. If the offense knows what coverage you are in, regardless of the distance, their chances of having success improve greatly. Also, the distance is also important – third-and-10 is very different from third-and-20. With the longer distances, it's most important to keep everything in front of you and tackle well. A three-man rush seems very light to me, though, especially on third-and-less-than-10. So much of it comes down to managing risk. If you blitz there is a chance that you will pressure the QB, but if the offense picks up the blitz, they will have a good chance for a big play.

John U. from Fulshear, TX

I sincerely hope you can answer this question regarding the names on the Lambeau Field facade. Are we really going to honor Steve McMichael with his name on our facade now that he is going to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Same question for Julius Peppers. I only ask this question because I'm confused over other names like Ted Hendricks and Jan Stenerud. They're honored on the facade. So after McMichael and Peppers are inducted in 2024, are they honored at Lambeau Field because they are former Packer players in the HOF, just like Hendricks and Stenerud?

Now I don't hate anyone including McMichael. In fact, McMichael's comments about "getting" the Packers are pretty funny if taken in the spirit of good sportsmanship. But, are we really going to put his name on the Lambeau field facade? Thanks Mark. I sincerely hope you can clear this up for me. All the best to you and our favorite team.

Thanks for raising this issue, John. We are very fortunate to have had so many great players over the years. As you may know, only the Bears have more former players in the Hall of Fame. Players do not go into the Hall of Fame as members of a specific team. Our policy has been that we will only put players on our façade if they played a significant portion of their careers in Green Bay or had great success here. For instance, Charles Woodson played more years for the Raiders (11 for the Raiders and seven for us), but had great success here (Defensive Player of the Year and won a Super Bowl). While Julius Peppers had three very impactful seasons with us, his contributions don't reach the longer-term threshold of Reggie White or Woodson. Neither Peppers nor McMichael will have their names on the façade. Finally, you need to come to Lambeau Field to check out the façade – neither Hendricks nor Stenerud is on it.

Kevin from Lehi, UT

I have been a Packers fan for years and I loved this year's team. Haven't had this much fun watching in a while. I know it is easy to get a lot of heat, being the head of an organization like the Packers, but I enjoyed this season and am excited for the next. Can't ask for anything more as a fan. So thanks to you and the whole organization for giving us something to cheer for.

Additionally, I have wondered a lot about the cap. Obviously, every year provides unique challenges concerning the cap. There are always moves that need to be made and hard decisions that come up. However, I am curious as to what the Packers' general philosophy is concerning the cap. I know that is a broad question, but I don't mind a broad answer. Every team has a slightly different take on the cap, whether concerning the length of contracts, guaranteed money, thoughts on certain positions, age cut-offs, or a hundred other considerations. So I just want to know what your general philosophy is.

Thanks, Kevin. I felt the same way about last year's team. We were so young, and it was fun to watch them grow as the season progressed. By the end of the season, we were playing as well as any team in the league. With regard to the salary cap, we are very fortunate to have Russ Ball overseeing all of our negotiations and the cap, generally. I think he's as good as anyone in the league in terms of managing the cap. A lot of what Russ does involves planning for the future. You may have read recently that the salary cap went up $30 million this year. Russ knew that the cap would increase, but not by that much. Our general philosophy is that we want to provide the team with the resources to be competitive every year. In the last few years of Aaron Rodgers' career, we were a little more aggressive in terms of our cap to give us a better chance to win a Super Bowl.

Mike from Cascade, ID

Have you or BG ever considered writing an article about what went on in the background leading up to the decision to draft Jordan Love? I would think that there were some interesting conversations going on and would suspect that not everyone involved were buying into it. I'm happy to see that all the naysayers are eating crow and singing your praises! How does it feel being a genius?

I think that will have to wait until Brian writes a book, Mike. I give Brian (and his team) tremendous credit for the process he followed and having the courage of his convictions to draft Jordan while Aaron Rodgers was still playing at a high level. There's an old saying in the NFL that the best time to draft a QB is when you don't need one. That certainly has worked well for us with both the drafting of Aaron and Jordan – and allowing them to sit for three years to watch and learn from a Hall of Fame QB. The drafting of Jordan was further complicated because we were in the early stages of the pandemic and Brian was conducting the draft from his home. It worked out pretty well for us, though.

Katie from Ashwaubenon, WI

I was so sorry to learn of Cherry Starr's passing this week. Do you have a favorite story about Cherry?

Thanks so much for this question, Katie. One of the real joys of my time here with the Packers is that I was able to spend time with and get to know the Starr family. One thing that really stood out about Bart and Cherry for me was the true love that they had for each other. I will also never forget the pimento cheese dip that Cherry would send to me on the eve of every season. A southern specialty.

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