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New rules passed for 2024 NFL season

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ORLANDO, Fla. – The NFL has dramatically altered its kickoff rules to encourage more returns while remaining cognizant of player safety.

At the NFL owners meetings in Orlando this week, teams voted to approve new kickoff rules that will be implemented on a one-year trial basis in 2024.

The ball will be kicked off from the 35-yard line as in the past. But 10 players from the kicking team will line up at the opposing 40. Nine players from the receiving team will stand between their own 30-35, with two returners inside their own 20. No one except the kicker and returners can move before the ball is touched by a player or lands on the ground between the goal line and 20, an area that will be known as the "landing zone." In addition, kickers cannot cross the 50.

Kicks that hit in the landing zone and roll into the end zone can be returned or downed for a touchback with the ball placed at the 20. Kicks that land in the end zone and are downed or roll out of the end zone will be ruled a touchback with the ball put at the 30.

In addition, fair catches and surprise onside kicks will be prohibited. Onside kicks will only be permitted in the fourth quarter or overtime by teams that are trailing, and they must declare that they will be attempting an onside kick.

"We had to do something to bring [kickoff returns] back," said Bears coach Matt Eberflus. "The [new rule] that they have is unique. It does take the speed out and the collisions out. It's going to be really interesting to see how it gets schemed up. I'm excited about that, because I'm going to have several meetings with [special teams coordinator Richard] Hightower about it because I have my thoughts as I look at that alignment. I think there's a lot of things that can happen there and I'm excited about looking at all those options."

Chairman George H. McCaskey told reporters that the Bears were one of the 29 teams that voted to approve the new kickoff rules, a proposal that needed 24 votes to pass.

"It's a safety rule, No. 1," McCaskey said. "They're trying to reduce speed and space. We had to do something to make the play safer. And we had to do something to address [the lack of kickoff returns]. The touchback is the most anticlimactic play in our great game. They did a lot of research. They involved special teams coordinators. The competition committee was very much in favor of it. We'll try it out."

Take a look at the Bears' home and away matchups for the 2024 season. (Photos via Chicago Bears, NFL and AP)

Hip-drop tackles eliminated

NFL owners voted to outlaw the hip-drop tackle, a technique in which a player "unweights himself by swiveling and dropping his hips and/or lower body, landing on and trapping the runner's legs at or below the knees." The infraction will result in a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down.

Eberflus isn't concerned about the Bears defense having to adjust to the new rule.

"We've never taught that type of tackle," he said. "We hit with the top of our pads … I think it's a really good rule because I don't want to lose offensive players because of that technique, and I think it's really a good way to put it on the books to make sure they take that tackle out of the game."

Eberflus doesn't think it will be a difficult rule to officiate.

"I think when you see it, you'll know it," he said. "It's like, 'OK, that was it,' because it's the grab and swivel and then the weight release of the legs to drop on the lower extremities. I think you can clearly see it and I think the league is going to do a good job of officiating it and making sure they're not going overboard with it, too."

Other news of note

• A new bylaw will allow teams to receive a third instant replay review if they are correct with one of their first two challenges. In the past, a team had to win each of its first two challenges to receive a third.

• The trade deadline will be moved back one week to Week 9.

• There will be two games played on Christmas, even though it falls on a Wednesday.

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