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Owners give go-ahead to move kickoffs up

The NFL will move kickoffs up 5 yards to the 35-yard line, keep touchbacks coming out to the 20 and allow the number of players in a blocking wedge to remain at two.

Kick coverage players now will be limited to lining up 5 yards or fewer from the spot of the kickoff.

Team owners also voted Tuesday to make all scoring plays reviewable by the replay official and referee. But they tabled a proposal to ban players launching themselves to make a tackle, and will reconsider it in May.

The league's competition committee proposed placing the ball at the 25 after touchbacks on kickoffs and banning the wedge altogether. Several coaches expressed concern about making too many changes to kickoffs, also saying bringing touchbacks out 5 more yards would affect field position too much. Coaches worried about an increase in touchbacks from the 16 percent of kickoffs last season.

"Any time there's a touchback and now it's not coming to the 20," Saints coach Sean Payton said, "I think that that probably was the most drastic of the four or five items that constituted one rule."

Making kickoffs safer was the objective, and Payton believes the owners met it, voting 26-6 for the new rule.

"The bottom line is it's the highest risk of injury play," he said.

Browns standout returner Joshua Cribbs wasn't thrilled by the changes, tweeting: "Essentially taking returners out of the game. injuries will still take place."

Bills coach Chan Gailey said his team, which has strong kickoff returners in C.J. Spiller and Leodis McKelvin, would adjust to the change.

"Yes. If you've got a good returner, you would like more returns. But that's being a little selfish," he said. "We've got congressmen who vote raises for themselves and we're cutting back everywhere else in America, that's selfish. Yeah, it would be good for me. But if it's going to be better for the league, hey, we'll adjust. If we don't have to cover as many, that might help us, too."

Meanwhile, owners haven't talked about using replacement players if the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987 stretches on, Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday, and the league might not keep its last contract offer on the table if bargaining doesn't resume soon.

"We have not had any discussions or consideration of replacement players," Goodell said at a news conference that closed the meetings. "It hasn't been discussed, it hasn't been considered, and it's not in our plans."

Goodell said he hasn't spoken to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith since March 11, when talks ended.

News Sports Reporter Allen Wilson contributed to this report.

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