There has been talk this off-season about making changes to the rules for extra points this season in the National Football League, and yesterday the NFL owners did just that.
For the 2015 season, PATs will be moved to the 15-yard line, making it a 32-yard kick. That's 13 yards longer than the extra point that we've become accustomed to, which was snapped from the 2-yard line, making it a 19-yard attempt. That's just for the one-point version. . .two-point conversions will still take place from the 2-yard line.
The league has also decided that if a defensive team returns a failed extra point attempt (either a kick or two-point conversion, apparently) into the end zone, they will be awarded two points. In the past, such situations have been declared dead ball situations. The thought process is that making the extra point longer will entice more teams to go for two points after touchdowns, but I'm not sure how much water that holds.
Taking a look at Minnesota's own kicker, Blair Walsh, it really isn't asking that much more of him to attempt a field goal from 32 yards than it is for him to kick an extra point. In his three NFL seasons, Walsh has missed just one extra point, going 108/109 for a 99.1% conversion rate. He has also gone 28/31 from distances between 30-39 yards, with his misses coming from 30 yards (a block by Julius Peppers in Chicago in 2012), 38 yards (a miss at Chicago in 2014), and 39 (a miss against the Jets at TCF Bank Stadium in 2014). He was perfect from 30-39 in 2013, and when the NFL experimented with the rule this past pre-season, Walsh went 4-for-4 on his PAT attempts from the 15-yard line.
Walsh, in an interview with Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, says that he's embracing the new rule change.
"I don't think they would have put it in last preseason unless they were serious about changing it," Walsh said last night in a phone interview. "You could see the writing on the wall. But I'm glad they didn't eliminate it."
Some kickers aren't thrilled that they will now have to try to nail their point after touchdowns (PATs) from 33 yards out. But Walsh, who penned this piece on the looming change last offseason, is embracing the challenge.
"Absolutely," Walsh said. "You've got to be confident in what you do. If somebody was telling you, ‘Hey, we're going to make your job just a little bit more important,' why wouldn't you take it? It's a new challenge."
Save for a brief hiccup towards the end of last season, Walsh has been one of the NFL's best kickers since the Vikings drafted him out of Georgia in 2012. He's converted field goals at a rate of 84.5% over his career, and has been relatively dependable from wherever the Vikings have asked him to convert from.
Walsh is in the final year of his rookie contract, and it would be a surprise if we didn't see a contract extension for him pretty soon (in addition to the one we're all anticipating for one of Walsh's fellow 2012 draftees, safety Harrison Smith). With this new rule placing kicking accuracy at a greater premium and the Vikings going back to playing at least 8 games a season in a climate-controlled, indoor environment in 2016, it would be foolish for the Vikings to risk letting a kicker of Walsh's caliber get away.