Former NFL head coach Mike Smith calls the fourth-and-15 proposal, which team owners are voting on May 28, a step in the right direction for player safety and says it has the potential to be a very exciting play.
NFL owners are voting on several proposed rules, but the decision on the fourth-and-15 is hot topic in particular. With the new rule, teams can elect to attempt a fourth-and-15 conversion from their own 25-yard line as an alternative to an onside kick. Teams will be able to attempt this twice per game, but only during regulation.
“I think it’s a good concept,” Smith said on Glenn Clark Radio May 27. “I’ve read a couple of different versions of it, and I really think that it could be an exciting football play.”
The NFL eliminated running starts for the onside kick two years ago, making the game safer while also reducing the success rate of the play. Safety has been a major issue in the NFL during recent years, and decisions are frequently judged based on their impact on player safety.
Smith said prior to the rule change, the onside kick was “one of the most dangerous plays in all of football” and added the league’s effort to make the game safer overall is the driving force behind the fourth-and-15 proposal.
“I go back to saying that player safety is probably the impetus that started this whole thing — where we are right now — and that’s a good thing when we’re making the game safer,” said Smith, the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons from 2008-2014.
Those who oppose the change claim that it will result in the same success rate as the onside kick when a running start was allowed. Smith pushed back on that, saying observers need to compare “apples to apples” and look at how teams fare on third-and-15 when they are behind.
Smith said the rule change would benefit trailing teams, but worries winning teams could use it to keep the ball away from opposing team at the end of the game. He doesn’t think teams should be able to elect the fourth-and-15 conversion when they are ahead, but the proposal is written to allow teams to attempt the play regardless of the score.
Two teams that could be successful at fourth-and-15 conversions are the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs, two of the league’s top offenses a year ago.
“I think it will be exciting for teams like the Baltimore Ravens that have a quarterback like Lamar Jackson,” said Smith, who was on the Ravens’ coaching staff from 1999-2002.
Some teams won’t necessarily have to throw for those 15 yards, according to Smith, who said that Jackson, the reigning NFL MVP, will be able to run the ball for those 15 yards and that the Chiefs will have a similar advantage with Patrick Mahomes, who is a dynamic quarterback as well.
As with many things, the rule would help the league financially because it could give trailing teams a better chance at producing exciting comebacks. That would keep viewers engaged through the fourth quarter even if teams are trailing. Better TV ratings would be a welcome benefit for advertisers that pay for spots during the second half when viewers are more likely to stop watching.
“What they are trying to do is allow the teams that are behind an opportunity to catch up,” Smith said.
The league owners are set to meet virtually for the vote May 28. They were also set to vote on adding a “sky judge” — an extra official in the booth who would help evaluate and enforce missed calls down on the field – but those proposals were withdrawn May 27. Still, Smith liked the idea of adding a sky judge.
“I think that we need to try to get things right, and if having a sky judge up in the box is going to allow that to happen, then I really believe another set of eyes is good,” Smith said. “I really think that you can right a lot of wrongs in the game. And in terms of officiating, that’s what we want.”
UPDATE: Owners voted to table the fourth-and-15 proposal May 28, but did approve several rules changes.
For more from Smith, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Ed Sheahin/PressBox