On Sunday night during the Pro Bowl, the NFL added to their list of rule changes for the All-Star game by testing out changes to the kicking game. They narrowed the width between goal posts from the longtime norm of 18.6 feet to 14 feet for last night's game and they lengthened extra points to make then 35-yard attempts.
And that led to some struggles for the man who was the NFL's best kicker in 2014 and arguably the greatest kicker in league history - Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri. The 42-year old kicker missed just one kick in the entire regular season, going 30-for-31 on field goal attempts, and he has missed just one regular season PAT in the last seven seasons combined. But in the Pro Bowl on Sunday night, Vinatieri hit on only two of his three field goal attempts and on just two of his four extra point attempts. He made field goals from 32 and 28 yards out and missed one from 38 yards, and as mentioned above the extra points were 35-yard tries.
Vinatieri was an outspoken opponent of the changes to the kicking game before the game, and the Pro Bowl certainly didn't do anything to quell those feelings.
"Ask a receiver, can we take his gloves off because he's catching the ball too well?" Vinatieri said, according to NFL.com. "Nobody is going to be overly happy about that. But I understand the wheels of change are in motion and people want to change stuff, but I feel bad for the young bucks that will have to deal with it their whole career."
The Colts' kicker did note that the rule changes would make a good kicker even more valuable, but he also noted that the rule changes would significantly change a team's approach to field goal kicking.
It's easy to see where Vinatieri is coming from. For his entire life (and he's the oldest player in the NFL, so that means more when talking about him than about other players), he has kicked on uprights that were 18.6 feet apart. He's played 19 seasons in the NFL and now, in a Pro Bowl, he was expected to suddenly adjust to the new rules. It's easy to see where he's coming from in disliking the rules, and it's something the NFL will have to consider. There's still a very long way to go before the NFL would approve these rules for an actual game, but it'll be a discussion within league circles this offseason.
The league's best kickers were on display on Sunday night (minus New England's Stephen Gostkowski, who didn't play due to his team being in the Super Bowl) - and even Adam Vinatieri struggled. He has been money all season long and for so long that these struggles should catch the league's attention. Is that what they want? Do they want to make the kicking game that much more difficult? If so, then they were validated by Vinatieri's performance on Sunday night. But more likely, it could make them realize just how big the changes are, though seemingly so minor.
Ultimately, it might come down to this point: what's the reason for the changes? I had exactly one conversation with someone last week about the goal posts being narrowed for the Pro Bowl, and their response: "why?" That's what many, including Vinatieri, are asking. The league thinks it's too easy for kicker to make field goals. But is it a big enough issue for them to make these changes? Adam Vinatieri, likely a future Hall of Famer, doesn't think so, and he's definitely not a fan of the changes.