Steelers acted fast with Cordarrelle Patterson signing after huge NFL rule change

The kickoff is relevant again, and Pittsburgh added a player who can flip the field.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons
New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

On March 26th, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed veteran running back and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson to a two-year, $6 million deal. With Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren under contract, this would have seemed like an unusual signing had it not been for the new kickoff rule that was implemented just hours before the Steelers decided to sign Patterson.

The NFL is officially changing the way they do the kickoff. For a lifetime, the kickoff remained the same in the National Football League, but an emphasis is being placed on safety, and owners were open to change. Last year, the league experimented with the 'fair catch' rule that allowed the return man to fair catch the ball anywhere on the field and automatically start the offensive possession at the 25-yard line.

While this did help when it came to player safety, it made the kickoff essentially meaningless. Instead of having fans on the edge of their seats, this was an opportunity for folks to stretch their legs or use the restroom as if it were an extended commercial break.

After this failed 2023 'fair catch' experiment on kickoffs, the NFL is doing away with this and restructuring the way kickoffs are done altogether. The league will now take a page from the XFL in which players from opposing teams will line up just five yards across from each other to avoid car-crash collisions.

The league is also incentivizing returns. They have adjusted the rules so that teams will want to kick the ball in the field of play instead of through the endzone. You can check out the full list of kickoff rules at Football Operations.

So where does Cordarrelle Patterson fit in?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the least effective teams in the NFL when returning kicks. While they ranked in the middle of the pack last year, they were just 24th in the NFL in kick return average in 2022 and they haven't returned a kick for a touchdown since 2017 when JuJu Smith-Schuster took one to the house during his rookie season.

Cordarrelle Patterson could give Steelers a spark in kick return game

Patterson can fix that. With an astonishing 29.3 yards per kick return on 273 returns in his 11-year NFL career, per Pro Football Reference, Patterson is widely considered one of the greatest kick return specialists in NFL history. As a result of his dominance in this facet of the game, Patterson has earned First-Team All-Pro honors four times as he has been routinely recognized as the best return man in the game.

When the kickoff rule changes were announced at the NFL owners' meeting, the Pittsburgh Steelers wasted no time finding a player who could flip the field for them and give the offense excellent starting field position.

Though some think the Steelers overpaid for a player who won't see the field much on offense ($3 million per season), Omar Khan likely wanted to avoid a bidding war for Patterson after the rule change was announced.

At 33 years old, it's hard to say how much is left in the tank. Patterson played with Arthur Smith on the Falcons for the past three seasons, but his usage took a major dip in 2023 -- particularly on offense where he was previously used in a heavy rotation at running back.

Still, this could prove to be a worthwhile signing and another big win for Omar Khan if the kick return game plays a big factor in 2024 like the league hopes it does with this new rule change. Even if he's seldom used outside of kick returns, the Cordarrelle Patterson signing could prove to be a great addition for the Steelers.