NFL Video Rulebook

The NFL Video Rulebook explains NFL rules with video examples.

Fair Catch

Rule Summary View Official Rule

Fair Catch is an unhindered catch of an airborne scrimmage kick that has crossed the line of scrimmage, or of an airborne free kick, by a player of the receiving team who has given a valid fair catch signal.

Item 1. Valid Fair-Catch Signal. A fair-catch signal is valid if it is made while the kick is in flight by a player who fully extends one arm above his helmet and waves it from side to side. A receiver is permitted to legally raise his hand(s) to his helmet to shield his eyes from the sun, but is not permitted to raise them above his helmet except to signal for a fair catch.

Item 2. Invalid Fair-Catch Signal. If a player raises his hand(s) above his shoulder(s) in any other manner, it is an invalid fair-catch signal. If there is an invalid fair-catch signal, the ball is dead when caught or recovered by any player of the receiving team, but it is not a fair catch. (The ball is not dead if it touches an opponent before or after it strikes the ground. See Article 3b).

Note: A fair-catch signal given behind the line of scrimmage on a scrimmage kick is ignored and is neither valid nor invalid.

Penalty: For an invalid fair-catch signal: Loss of five yards from the spot of the signal. If the foul occurs in Team B’s end zone during a free kick, it is enforced from the previous spot.

Item 3. Muff. After a valid fair-catch signal, the opportunity to catch a kick does not end if the ball is muffed. The player who signaled for a fair catch must have a reasonable opportunity to catch the muffed ball before it hits the ground without interference by members of the kicking team, and regardless of whether the ball strikes another player or an official.

Penalty: For interference with the opportunity to make a fair catch after a muff: A fair catch is awarded at the spot of the interference even if the ball is not caught.

Item 4. Intentional Muff. An intentional muff forward prior to a catch in order to gain ground is an illegal bat (see 12-5-1-Note).

Item 5. Illegal Block. Until the ball touches a teammate or an opponent, a player who makes a valid or invalid fair-catch signal is prohibited from blocking or initiating contact with a player of the kicking team.

Penalty: For an illegal block after a fair-catch signal: Loss of 15 yards from the spot of the foul. If the foul occurs in Team B’s end zone during a free kick, it is enforced from the previous spot.

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