Momentum exists for NFL overtime rule change, but 24 votes ‘not easy to get’

There is “a lot of momentum” for changing NFL overtime rules, competition committee chairman Rich McKay said Friday, but it is unclear whether enough owners will agree on a specific proposal when they gather next week for their annual meetings in Palm Beach, Florida.

At the moment, two proposals are under consideration. The Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles have proposed making it mandatory for each team to have an overtime possession before moving to sudden death. The Tennessee Titans, meanwhile, proposed a tweak that would implement mandatory possession for each team unless the team that has the first possession scores a touchdown and converts a successful 2-point attempt.

The competition committee did not endorse either proposal, but McKay said that was because the clubs covered the nature of the discussion well. In a conference call, however, McKay warned reporters about the difficulty of getting the necessary 24 votes from owners to change a rule.

“I think my history on this rule tells me that 24 votes is not easy to get,” McKay said. “But I do think the statistics absolutely warrant an examination of whether overtime rules need to be further modified.”

The existing rule allows a team to win on the first possession of overtime if it scores a touchdown, an outcome that dominated discussion in January after the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Chiefs won the coin toss and chose to receive. They scored a touchdown on their first drive, ultimately leaving Bills quarterback Josh Allen and his offense on the sideline and unable to affect the outcome of the game.

Since the current requirement for an opening-possession touchdown was instituted for the 2012 regular season, teams winning the coin toss have won 50% of the time, according to league data. That number has ticked up a bit to 54% since the league shorted overtime from a maximum of 15 minutes to 10 minutes in 2017, but there has been a big jump in the postseason.

Since the current format was implemented in 2010, seven of 12 playoff overtime games have been won on the opening possession, and 10 of those 12 were won by the team that won the coin toss.

McKay said he has heard from some teams that prefer to make the change for playoff games only.

“If there was an appetite [for change], you want to be consistent,” NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said earlier this month. “You don’t want to have one set of rules for the regular season and another for the playoffs, but that’s just me.”

The overtime proposals constitute two of the three rule proposals that owners will consider next week. The other is to make permanent a one-year tweak to the setup zone on kickoff returns, designed to increase the likelihood of onside kick recoveries.

It is the “fewest number of proposals I’ve seen in a while,” McKay said. “And that’s a good thing. I think the game is in a really good place.”

In other news:

• The NFL has spent several months analyzing the high frequency of injuries on punts, which chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said earlier this year should be addressed “immediately.”

It’s possible that the league will have new recommendations for training in 2022, but any associated rule change won’t come before 2023, McKay said. He added they will study the USFL’s modified punt, which does not allow gunners to line up outside the numbers and prohibits them from being double-teamed until after the kick, to see if it affects injury rates. The USFL season opens next month.

• Wayne Mackie, a longtime NFL official who has been helping to lead its training department since 2017, died suddenly overnight while in Florida as he prepared for next week’s meetings. He was 62.