Harrison Butker Out as Chiefs’ Kickoff Specialist? K.C. Considering Changes Due to NFL’s New Kickoff Rule

With the new rules in place, the Chiefs might be going in a different direction from Harrison Butker for their kickoff specialist this season.

Harrison Butker may be coming off a career year, but his exploits off the field certainly have turned heads for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Despite the controversy created in his graduation speech back in late May, the Chiefs’ kicker might also see his role reduced in 2024 — not for comments but due to the latest rule changes coming for special teams units as a whole.

Kansas City Chiefs Considering Change in Kickoff Specialist With New Rules

The NFL altered its kickoff rule during league meetings this past offseason to add a bit of excitement back into a play that had become more of a chore than anything else.

Now, the league has adopted the old XFL rule for kickoffs, where the kicking team cannot try and tackle a returner until the ball is safely in his possession, or within the landing zone. The kickoff coverage team also is set to be on the receiving team’s 40-yard line.

In short, the idea of returning a kick for a big play is something the NFL is excited to see.

It also means that organizations like the Chiefs are brainstorming alternatives to having kickers kick off during the season. Instead of trotting out a player like Butker who they hope can make a tackle, putting defensive athletes who can secure that tackle is an idea special teams coordinator Dave Toub is working through.

“Justin [Reid] can cover, he can kick, which he can do, and then he can go down there and make tackles,” Toub stated. “He’s an extra guy that they’re probably not accounting for. They know that that guy can go down [there] and tackle, but a guy like Justin is a guy that they have to worry about. They have to get him blocked, and they have to give up blocking somebody else, so that’s the whole thought of that.”

Reid has been a key cog in helping the Chiefs’ defense become one of the best in football, celebrating back-to-back Super Bowl titles. His versatility can also help them understand that what was once a standard ask for a particular play may no longer be the case.

Especially for kickoffs.

“Hang time doesn’t matter at all now,” Toub explained on the team’s website. “Now, it’s about accuracy, seeing where the returners are lined up, and trying to kick away from them in the corners. But you can’t take too much of a risk, because if you hit it out of bounds, now you’re giving them the ball at the 40-yard line. There’s a fine line.”

No official plans have been announced by the Chiefs regarding their special teams role, but Butker’s time as the team’s top kicker won’t carve out a specific role on the kickoff team anymore.

Breaking Down New Kickoff Rules

Player safety has been at the forefront of recent rule changes, including the kickoff changes. Due to the safety concerns of the original kickoff, the league tried to take drastic measures in the last decade, such as eliminating the wedge block and allowing for balls that land in the end zone to automatically become a touchback.

Since then, points via kickoff returns, once an exciting change of pace in games, dropped dramatically.

The NFL’s latest adoption of the XFL rules is a hope for a happy medium to bring back the excitement of the play while keeping safety as a top priority.

One of the big changes from kickoffs now is that surprise onside kicks are no longer a thing. Teams must declare if they are going to run an onside kick or not before the play begins, allowing the opposing team to run their hands team out.

KEEP READING: Everything You Need to Know About the NFL’s New Kickoff Rule

With the rule that the kicking team cannot move until the ball hits the ground or is touched by an opposing player, the excitement that was once a staple of the kickoff rule could be brought back to the NFL, and it’s forcing many teams to find alternative solutions to stay ahead of the NFL curve.

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