JOHN CLAYTON

Narrowing the uprights would rob the NFL of some late-game drama

Jul 19, 2016, 4:15 PM | Updated: 4:19 pm
The NFL is considering narrowing the uprights from their current width of 18 feet, six inches. (AP)...
The NFL is considering narrowing the uprights from their current width of 18 feet, six inches. (AP)
(AP)

Like most teams, the Seahawks value special teams.

They gave kicker Steven Hauschka a new contract two years ago and extended punter Jon Ryan this offseason. They’ve jumped at the chance to get a great return specialist, Leon Washington at the beginning of Pete Carroll’s tenure and Tyler Lockett last year.

But special teams may not be as special league-wide in the future as the NFL considers different rule changes.

Last year, the league moved extra points to the 15-yard line to create a more exciting play. And after last week’s officiating clinic in Dallas, the NFL announced it is going to experiment putting data chips into footballs. It’s a smart move to take advantage of the advanced technology. The chips will provide analytical data on where field goals and extra points fly in relation to the goalposts. It will help in making sure the ball is placed correctly before the start of a play.

My hope is the NFL doesn’t use the data to narrow the uprights and make it tougher on kickers. Sometimes change can be too much. Narrowing the uprights would cross the line and negatively affect games in ways the league might not be considering.

One of the best aspects of the current era is the play of the quarterback. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. The better the quarterback, the better the chance a franchise has to get to the Super Bowl and win.

But narrower uprights might ruin the ends of games.

Think about it for a second. How many times have you seen Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Matt Ryan execute a winning or tying field-goal drive in the final minute of a game? The trailing team gets the ball at the 20, gets three or four quick completions and sets up for a field goal with seconds remaining on the clock.

Last year, there were 706 two-minute drives at the ends of both halves that resulted in 646 points. Kickers made 77 field goals out of 109 attempts in those pressure situations. In 21 two-minute possessions last season, the Seahawks had three touchdown drives and made four of five field-goal attempts, resulting in 33 points.

In the final two minutes of regulation, a team trailing by three or fewer points produced 34 field-goal drives.

If narrowing the uprights reduces the chance of making a 40- to 45-yard field goal, plenty of fourth-quarter excitement would vanish. Instead of trying to get to the opponent’s 37-yard line, a team would have the mentality of going for a few longer plays or trying to complete one or two more passes to position itself for a shorter attempt.

That would lead to more incompletions, interceptions or sacks. Whereas now a team with the ball at its 20-yard line and 40 seconds left in regulation has hope, the possible need for an extra first down would cause more pessimism about getting that last score.

You get the feeling the NFL might do away with the kickoff in the next few years because of concussions and injuries. The NCAA just recently opened that dialogue. That’s a safety issue, so it might be inevitable.

But narrowing the uprights is a strategic tweak that would make the game less special.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

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Narrowing the uprights would rob the NFL of some late-game drama