2011 NFL Lockout: Will the Kicking Rule Change Have Any Effect On NFL Labor, CBA Issues?

This post may or may not contain varying degrees of tinfoil hattery and things of that nature, but I consider them pertinent and worthy of discussion either way. As most of us know, and most of us are pretending to not know, the NFL's competition committee voted on four proposed rule changes and the results of one of those votes is that kickoffs are now moved up to the 35-yard line, from the thirty, in an effort to have a positive effect on player safety. There might be another reason, which I'll get to shortly. Touchbacks would remain at the 20-yard line, and another player safety bit they've included is that players are not allowed to be any more than five yards off the ball, limiting speed and theoretically, the force of impact. 

So how could this change anything relating to the current lockout and collective bargaining agreement prospects? I've a couple theories. The first thing to note is that, already, coaches and players have be come out as against this. Obviously, there are those that think it is positive (looking at you, kickers), but when somebody has a negative opinion of things, they're generally louder and have more of an impact on the decision-making process. There is no debate as to whether or not this will be safer, it most definitely will lessen the chance of injuries and things of that nature, and thus, I won't be talking too much about that. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is among the people supporting it, nothing that it would probably result in something like forty less concussions per year, which is unquestionably a good thing.

It's not one-sided, in other words, but as I said, the people on the flip-side to that will generally be much louder and potentially more influential. Players like Michael Robinson have been outspoken against it, while noting its positive effects. Devin Hester has been against it, Josh Cribbs as well. The players and owners are currently in a legal battle over the state of the league right this moment: lockout. Before we get into that, make the jump for quotes and all of my theories.

@espn_nfcwest this is a contact sport. It is what we signed up for when we started playing as young kids! They are taking away from the game (-Michael Robinson, Twitter)

Oh they hating on me man. Come on now. You know I don't like the rule. I'm sure sure Brad Smith and Devin Hester and Joshua Cribbs and the rest of those guys you know doing a good job returning the balls don't like the rule. I mean it's a part of the game that is really exciting. I think fans look forward to it because it's an instant momentum change. You gotta think about it. It's the first play of the game or the first play after halftime after the opposing teams scores, so it's one of those things. I think the NFL is trying to figure out how can they minimize the injuries on the kickoff and kickoff return unit. Also like you said there might be some greed involved. (-Leon WashingtonSports Radio Interviews)

Actually I have been down here in Miami practicing on my leg because I got a strong feeling that I'm not going to get any returns, so I said, ‘Hey let me try to do the kickoff to keep a job going' but to be honest they might as well put up the arena nets, man, cause it's going to be a lot of balls going in the endzone, man. (-Devin Hester, Sports Radio Interviews)

Emphasis mine. Michael Robinson (of former 49er fame, now plays for some team nobody cares about) has more to say on his Twitter account, and will probably talk to you about if you tweet him, he's very engaged with his fans, of which I am still one. Perhaps the most telling quotes from the most vocal player thus far, Josh Cribbs of the Cleveland Browns, are below. (All from his Twitter account)

NFL rule changes are BS... U not making the game safer u messing a great sport, trynna hide behind safety just to add 2 games...smh

Essentially taking returners out of the game...injuries will still take place, then what move it up again, or eliminate it all together..

Not just speaking for myself, but it affects the blue collar NFL players which are the majority who don't have big names, it extends careers

Thanks @MikeandMike u guys are awesome hopefully in another 15yrs when my kids are teenagers their not saying "dad what's a kick return" lol

To address the bold text first, is it possible that the NFL is passing rules that they might not feel so strongly about just to label the game as safer, and therefore allow them more leeway in negotiations regarding their preference for an eighteen-game season? One of the biggest road blocks in their vision of an eighteen-game season is the physical toll the NFL already takes on players. Could we be seeing more rules potentially implemented to increase player safety as a way to further their efforts to get the two games added on?

Personally, I think that's likely. It's absolutely true that the competition committee legitimately cares about player safety and they continually are looking for ways to affect that in a positive way, but I think it is just as likely true that the league is now actively pushing things through to increase their chances of adding the two games. 

Whether that will help or not in the long run, there is still the matter of how this rule change could affect the lockout. Overly simplified, this is a matter of owners versus players, and if the players are unhappy, could this now become an issue between the two sides if and when things get back to the negotiating table? Throughout the course of any given year, the competition committee can make changes and we'd have a player or two here and there like James Harrison tweeting and threatening retirement, but in this offseason under these circumstances, anything and everything can come up for debate.

Like a nasty divorce, either side will find themselves debating and relenting point after point, is this something that could come up? DeMaurice Smith takes a seat at the negotiating table and says "Look, fellas. This new kickoff rule - that's a sticking point for us. We represent the players, and the players don't like it." Is that something you can see happening? I definitely can. The competition committee isn't so cut-and-dry as to be under control of the owners or anything like that, I don't know how the balance of power actually falls in that regard, but I have to believe Roger Goodell could find a way to get that overturned for the betterment of the league's future and of course the glorious, glorious money that comes with it.

Lastly, and this is something that's way out there, could the league have implemented this knowing full well that the other side would not like it to apply pressure? If their TV contract deal was any indication, the league needs and wants the upper hand any way they can get it. Not totally understand the balance of power notwithstanding, I could see this as well. It could be something that's an easy relent for the league in negotiations, to make it seem as if they are conceding more points one way or another. 

Whether you're for this rule or against this rule, that's just one thing I could see it potentially affecting off the field. Do I think it's something that's likely to change even if it is brought up? I don't really think so, this rule is probably here to stay, but I've been wrong before, and would love to be in this situation. It's worth noting that the rule doesn't expressly relate to the potential collective bargaining agreement, but do remember that anything and everything can be up for debate at this point. The phrase "Like a nasty divorce" very clearly applies.

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