Steelers reportedly signing all-time kickoff TD leader Cordarrelle Patterson after kickoff rule changes

Kickoff returns are about to become a lot more prevalent in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers are acting accordingly.

The Steelers are expected to sign former Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson, who also happens to be the NFL's all-time leader in kickoff return touchdowns, to a two-year, $6 million deal, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Patterson has posted nine kickoff returns for touchdowns since entering the league in 2013, three times more than his closest competition in that span. He is a seven-time All-Pro as a kick returner (four as a first-teamer and three as a second-teamer).

If anyone was going to benefit from the NFL's kickoff rule changes, it was Patterson. The league has seen kickoff returns increasingly give way to fair kicks over the past several years, diminishing Patterson's value, but the new rules heavily incentivize having a good return man.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 31: Cordarrelle Patterson #84 of the Atlanta Falcons interacts with fans prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 31, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
The NFL kickoff rule changes are good for Cordarrelle Patterson, specifically. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

As Yahoo Sports' Jori Epstein reports, the NFL is adopting the XFL-style rules. Here's how they work:

  • The kicking team still kicks from its 35-yard line, but all players save for the kicker line up at the opponent's 40. Meanwhile, at least nine members of the receiving team must line up between the 30- and 35-yard lines, with a maximum of two returners between the end zone and 20-yard line.

  • The lined-up players cannot move until the ball lands or is caught by a receiving player.

  • Any kick landing in the "landing zone" (between the goal line and 20-yard line) must be returned. If a kick bounces from the landing zone into the end zone, it must be returned or downed for a touchback to the 20-yard line. If a kick lands short of the landing zone, the receiving team gets the ball at its own 40. If a kick lands in the end zone or goes out the back of the end zone, the receiving team gets the ball at its own 30.

It all sounds very complicated, but the upshot is teams are going to have to start returning kicks again. Teams were perfectly fine calling for a fair kick in most situations, as the risk of a fumble outweighed the reward of a long return or touchdown, especially when a touchback gives them the ball with acceptable field position at the 25-yard line.

Now, kickers can aim for just short of the end zone and force the other team to return the ball, while the previously risky high-speed collisions between blockers and tacklers become safer without a full running start.

The 33-year-old Patterson is coming off the quietest season of his career as a returner with only seven returns and a career-low 21.9 yards per return, but he posted 31.6 yards per return the previous year.

The deal will also reunite Patterson with Steelers offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who coached Patterson as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.