Buffalo kicker Dan Carpenter attempts an onside kick in a 2016 game. Owners declined to endorse an alternative to the onside kick on Thursday. Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

NFL owners put aside a proposal Thursday that would have given teams a fourth-and-15 alternative to the onside kick.

The proposal, made by the Philadelphia Eagles, failed to gain the approval of team owners as they met by video conference Thursday afternoon. The measure would have taken effect during the upcoming 2020 season if it had been ratified. Instead, it was tabled for reconsideration at another time.

A similar proposal also failed to gain approval by the owners last offseason, when it was made by the Denver Broncos. With successful onside kicks having become rare since the NFL’s implementation of safety-related rule changes for kickoffs before the 2018 season, many within the league were looking for another option – particularly for a team trailing late in a game – and owners were thought to be more receptive this time around. Even so, the proposal did not secure the necessary 24 votes among the 32 teams.

This measure would not have eliminated onside kicks but would have given teams another option that could have been used up to twice per game per team, whether or not that team was trailing. The fourth-and-15 option could not have been used in overtime, and the play would have been an untimed down.

If a team had opted to try the fourth-and-15 measure rather than kick off, the football was to have been placed at that team’s 25-yard line. If a team had gotten a first down, it would have retained possession and its drive would have continued at the point at which the play ended. If that team failed to get a first down, the opposing team would take possession at the play’s ending point.

The team using the fourth-and-15 option could not have punted and could not have changed its mind and kicked off if, for instance, it had gotten a penalty on its first attempt.

NFL teams converted 16 of 60 fourth-and-15 attempts over the past 10 seasons, according to the NFL Network, for a success rate of 26.7%.

That’s more than double teams’ success rate on onside kicks over the past two seasons. NFL teams had 12 successful onside kicks among 114 attempts over the past two seasons, with the new kickoff rules in effect, for a success rate of 10.5%. That was down from 16.4% in the five seasons before the new kickoff rules went into effect between 2013 and ’17, when teams had 49 successes among 299 onside kicks.

The fourth-and-15 concept – often credited to former NFL coach Greg Schiano, now the head coach at Rutgers – once was regarded as a potential replacement for the kickoff if league leaders determined that the kickoff was too dangerous and had to be eliminated from the sport entirely. In that version, a team could have either punted or opted to try for a first down.

But the new safety rules, which include a ban on players on the kicking team getting a running start before the football is kicked, seem to have satisfied NFL leaders that the play is now safe enough to be kept. That led to the fourth-and-15 option being reimagined as an alternative to the onside kick in an attempt to keep fans engaged, given the possibility of dramatic late-game shifts.

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