NFL Video Rulebook Kickoff Rules

Rule 6 Sections 1-2

Rule Summary View Official Rule


Article 1. Free Kick

A free kick is a kickoff or safety kick that puts the ball in play to start a free kick down. It must be made from any point on the kicking (offensive) team’s restraining line and between the inbounds lines.

  1. A kickoff puts the ball in play at the start of each half, after a try, and after a successful field goal. A dropkick or placekick may be used for a kickoff.
    Note: During a placekick on a kickoff, the kicking team may use a manufactured tee designed to hold the ball no more than one inch from the ground and approved by the League. A holder or tee cannot be used to elevate the ball more than one inch above the ground. Once the ball has been placed on the kicking tee, the kicking tee cannot be moved. If the ball falls off the tee, the covering officials must stop play and restart the timing process without penalty to the kicking team. If the ball falls off the tee a second time during the same free kick down, the kicking team then must either use a player to hold the ball or must kick it off the ground. The ball may be placed on the ground leaning against the tee, provided the tee is in its normal upright position.
  2. A safety kick puts the ball in play after a safety. A dropkick, placekick, or punt may be used for a safety kick. A tee cannot be used for a safety kick.

Penalty: For illegal kick on a free kick down: Loss of five yards.

Article 2. Restraining Lines

The restraining lines for a free kick shall be as follows, unless they are adjusted because of a distance penalty:

  1. The restraining line for the kicking team shall be its 35-yard line for a kickoff and its 20-yard line for a safety kick.
  2. The restraining line for the receiving team shall be the yard line 10 yards in advance of the kicking team’s restraining line.
Article 3. Free Kick Formation

When the ball is kicked on a free kick down:

  1. Before the kicker approaches the ball and until the ball is kicked,
    1. all kicking team (Team A) players other than the kicker must be lined up and remain in their established positions no more than one yard behind their restraining line; and
    2. at least five players of the kicking team must be on each side of the ball. At least two players must be lined up outside the yard-line number, and two players between the inbounds lines and the yard-line number.
    1. A holder for a free kick counts as one of the required five players, regardless of where he is positioned.
    2. A player who lines up one yard behind the restraining line must have at least one foot (either the front or the back foot) touching that yard line.
  2. All kicking team players must be inbounds and behind the ball when it is kicked, except:
    1. the holder of a placekick (3-18-1-Item 2) may be beyond the line, and
    2. the kicker may be beyond the line, provided that his kicking foot is not beyond the line.
  3. Until the ball is kicked, all receiving team (Team B) players must be inbounds and behind their restraining line, and at least eight players must be positioned between their restraining line and a spot 15 yards behind their restraining line (the “setup zone”). (See Section 2, Article 1, Item 2-b.)

Penalty: For a player being beyond the restraining line when the ball is kicked (offside), a player being out of bounds when the ball is kicked, a kicking team player other than the kicker being more than one yard behind his restraining line, or either team being in an illegal formation when the ball is kicked: Loss of five yards.

  1. Prior to the ball being touched by the receiving team or the end of the kick, it is a foul if a kicking team player voluntarily goes out of bounds (without being contacted by a receiving team player) to avoid a block.

Penalty: For voluntarily going out of bounds without contact: Loss of 5 yards.

Article 4. Catch or Recovery of a Free Kick
  1. If a player of the receiving team catches or recovers the ball, he may advance.
  2. If the ball is declared dead while in the simultaneous possession of two opposing players, the ball is awarded to the receiving team.
  3. A player of the kicking team may legally touch, catch, or recover the ball if:
    1. it first touches a receiving team player; or
    2. it reaches or crosses the receiving team’s restraining line.
  4. The ball is dead if:
    1. it is caught or recovered by a player of the kicking team. If the catch or recovery is legal, the ball belongs to the kicking team at the dead-ball spot.
    2. it is not touched by the receiving team and touches the ground in the end zone (touchback).
  5. If the ball comes to rest inbounds after reaching the receiving team’s restraining line and no player attempts to possess it, the ball becomes dead and belongs to the receiving team at the dead-ball spot.


1) A player is deemed to have not touched the ball if it is batted or illegally kicked into him by an opponent. Such touching is ignored, though the bat or kick could be a foul for an Illegal Bat or Illegal Kick.

2) For illegal catch or recovery, see 6-2-4.

*Underlined text denotes 2018 rule changes