The NFL has approved a rule change that almost certainly will benefit the Green Bay Packers. Starting in 2024, the league has introduced a one-year experiment that it hopes will open things up for a particular play that has been gradually phased out in recent years, the kick return. This will make the recent re-signing of one recently re-signed free agent even more valuable for the Packers.

The NFL Rule Change that Will Make a Packers Free Agent More Valuable

The NFL will be adopting a kickoff return rule similar to the one used in the XFL. Kickoffs will still be made from the 35-yard line, but the way teams will line up will be different.

The team kicking off will line up its players at the opposing team’s 40-yard line. The return team will line up at the 35. Nine players will be in what is called the “set-up zone” which is between the 30 and 35-yard line and seven players must be touching the 35 at the kick of the ball.

The receiving team will have two players inside their own 20 who can return the ball. No players can move until the ball is touched by the receiving team or hits the ground except the kicker and the eligible kick returners. This will reduce high-speed collisions and give the return specialists more time and space to run the ball back.

Touchbacks will be changed as well. The ball will come out to the 30 instead of the 25.

“This is our chance to keep special teams in the game,” Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL Competition Committee said when the change was announced. “Special teams has been a part of the game forever. And, if you lose the kickoff, in our mind, you really pretty much eliminated special teams and put it on a punt play.”

The Packers Free Agent Who Will Become More Valuable Due to the Rule Change

The Packers player who will benefit most from this rule change is return specialist Keisean Nixon. Nixon earned back-to-back All Pro honors as a return specialist in both 2022 and 2023. Over the last two years, he has led the league in kick return yardage. He averaged 28.8-yards per return in 2022 and a league best 26.1 yards per runback last season. In both seasons, Nixon led the league in returns. He had 35 in 2022 and just 30 in 2023.

Overall, the number of kick returns has gone down as kickers get more adept at kicking the ball out of the end zone. Many of Nixon’s returns came late in the season when the cold weather made it more difficult for kickers to get as much distance on their kicks. Now, he should have more opportunities. Even if the ball is kicked deep into the end zone, the new rules should make it easier to return specialists to gain more yards on their returns. This will make returns more desirable and more likely to succeed.

What the Packers Brass Is Saying

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur spoke out in favor of the rule change, saying it should be to his team’s advantage because of Nixon.

“Yeah, I definitely want [the rules change],” LaFleur said on Tuesday. “I think the kickoff – I don’t know what football would be without it. You definitely want it to be part of the game. Certainly, when you have a returner as dynamic as Keisean, the more opportunities he can get to return, I think it could set us up. Now, it’s just not only on Keisean. You’ve got to have the guys in front of him making the blocks and setting it up in that regard. Yeah, his value, whether it’s at nickel or as a returner, I think is really high.”

A day earlier, GM Brian Gutekunst also expressed support for the change. “I think it would be nice to get the kickoff return back into the game. How we do that, I think, is up for debate. There’s a lot of that going on right now. We’re working through that right now, but I would like to see that play return. It was kind of a non-existent play.”

The opportunity is there for Nixon to have a bigger impact on the game and to give the Packers better field position. And it makes the recent re-signing of Nixon even more valuable for the team.





Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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