The free kick is considered one of two types of kickoffs even though it uses a drop kick, according to the NFL rules:"Once the ball is touched by the receiving team or has gone 10 yards, it is a free ball." Conversely, there are the same penalties if it goes out of bounds so it risks a 30 yd penalty.
Yes. The rules for a free kick after a safety are the same as the rules for a free kick after a touchdown or field goal.
Agreed. Just two points of clarification on the original answer:
1. The free kick after a safety isn't a drop kick. A drop kick is a specific type of kick in which the ball is struck after it bounces off the ground. What you usually see after a safety is just a punt without a line of scrimmage in front of the kicker.
2. An onside kick that goes out of bounds doesn't incur the 30-yard penalty. The receiving team gets the ball at the spot where the ball went out of bounds.
Technically, a "free kick" is any kick that is not a scrimmage kick. In other words, any time the ball is put into play by kicking, and the ball is not snapped on a normal scrimmage down, it is a free kick. This includes kickoffs, as well as kicks following a safety or fair-catch. The kick following a safety is unique because it is the only type of free kick where the kicker has the choice of punting the ball or kicking it off a tee. (In fact, they could dropkick it as well.) Because of this, many people mistakenly think that "free kick" means the kicker can choose how to kick the ball, when in fact that is only true of the free kick after a safety. The normal rules for kickoffs apply to all free kicks: The ball must travel 10 yards before the kicking team can recover it (unless first touched by a receiver), and it must not go out of bounds.
Once the ball has gone 10 yards after being kicked during a kickoff, the ball is indeed live! During a punt, however, someone on the receiving team must touch the football for it to be live. The ball is always live during a kick. The only thing in question is who can recover, and when. On free kicks (including kickoffs and free kicks following a safety), the receiving team can recover the ball at any time, and the kicking team can recover either after it has traveled 10 yards or after the receiving team touches it after any distance. On scrimmage kicks (field goals and punts), the kicking team gives up possession of the ball unless (1) the ball fails to cross the line of scrimmage, (2) the kicking team then recovers the ball, and (3) the down played was not 4th down. In any other situation, the receiving team takes the ball. Once the ball crosses the line of scrimmage, the only way the kicking team can retake possession is if the receiving team fumbles, muffs, or touches the ball and the kicking team recovers.
Following a safety, the ball can be put in play either by placekick, punt or dropkick. The kicking team may choose which method to use. In college and high school, the kicker may use a tee if he opts to placekick the ball. However, in the NFL a tee is not allowed for a free kick following a safety, so the team would have to employ a holder. Note that these rules only apply to a free kick following a safety. Contrary to popular belief, this is NOT the definition of a free kick in general. Any kick which is not a scrimmage kick is a free kick, including kickoffs and fair-catch kicks.
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