Leon Washington’s ability to return kickoffs helped him resurrect his career and earn a four-year contract extension with the Seahawks.
So it’s no surprise that he opposes a new rule change that potentially devalues premier returners like himself.
The change — which passed Tuesday morning — will move kickoffs up from the 30- to the 35-yard line, making it easier for kickers to kick the ball out of the end zone and eliminating any chance at a return.
“I don’t like the rule,” Washington said on Brock & Salk minutes before the change was passed. “And I’m sure Brad Smith and Devin Hester and Joshua Cribbs and the rest of the guys that do a really good job of returning the ball don’t like the rule. It’s a part of the game that’s really exciting. I think fans look forward to it because it’s an instant momentum-changer.”
Washington, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last season, joked that he’ll be unaffected.
“I was telling my dad the other day,” he said, “it just looks like there’s going to be a bunch of 109-yard kickoff returns because I plan on coming out of the end zone if that takes place.”
In all seriousness, he said teams will have to adjust.
“It’s going to take a lot of strategy for the coaches to come up with a plan for how to take advantage of the opportunities you do have,” he said. “I think as a returner you have to really study the game, study the kickers and try to approach the game from that angle.
“Hopefully it doesn’t go through but if it does, special teams coaches have to really, really prepare themselves and really game plan around how to take advantage of when you do have opportunities because early on in the season when kickers’ legs are feeling good and strong, they’re going to be kicking out of the end zone. But later in the season, there’s going to be a few chances where you do have opportunities.”
Washington predicted that kickoff units will take advantage of the extra five yards by using bloop kicks that throw off the timing and spacing of a return — a tactic often used against some of the more dangerous returners. He thinks that would invite more violent collisions, defeating the purpose of the rule change.
“If you get a guy like (Cardinals kicker) Jay Feely … he has a really good bloop kick and he bloops it to the five-yard line with a five-second hang time,” Washington said. “Most guys in the NFL run a sub-4.5, 4.6 40. By the time I catch the ball they’re going to be right on me or they’ll be hitting the guy right in front of me (who’s) trying to protect me.”
Washington believes “greed” was a factor in the rule change: “If you don’t have to pay a returner or have to pay a special teams guy a certain amount of money, it helps them (owners) out and it benefits them in their pocket long-term.”