The NFL will experiment with an alternative to the onside kick during Sunday’s Pro Bowl, an indication that the league is still considering the option despite the fact that owners rejected it last year.
As in past years, there will be no kickoffs at all in the Pro Bowl. The twist this year is that teams will have two options after scoring.
The first is to give the ball back to the opposition, which would start its drive at its 25-yard line. The new, second option for the scoring team would serve as a substitute for an onside kick. It would allow it to run one additional play from its own 25-yard line.
If the scoring team gains 15 or more yards, it would retain possession. If it falls short, the opposition would take over at the dead ball spot. Essentially, it will be a fourth-and-15 play.
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) January 21, 2020
Onside kicks have been more difficult to recover since the NFL’s 2018 overhaul of the kickoff. Among other changes, the new rule prevented the kickoff team from getting a running start before the kick. Onside kick recoveries dropped from the league’s historic rate of about 21% through the 2017 season to 7.7% in 2018 and 12.9% in 2019.
The Denver Broncos proposed a similar change last winter, but owners voted it down in March. The NFL does not always adopt Pro Bowl rule changes, but the presence of the onside kick alternative is an indication that at least some league decision-makers would like to see it in action.
Also this year, Pro Bowl officials will be instructed to use a different standard for false start penalties on receivers who are flexed from the line of scrimmage. It will not be a false start if a receiver flinches or lifts one foot off the ground, provided he resets for one second and/or keeps one foot on the ground.