On the same day that the NFL approved changes to the rules governing kickoffs and kick returns, one of the greatest return men in league history has found a new home. Cordarrelle Patterson will sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to CBS Sports lead NFL insider Jonathan Jones. Per NFL Media, Patterson's contract will be for two years and $6 million.

Patterson has led the NFL in yards per kick return three times, total kick return yardage twice, and kick return touchdowns six times in his 11-year career. But in more recent seasons, he hasn't really been afforded all that many return opportunities due to the rule changes that increased the number of touchbacks and then allowed for fair catches. After returning a league-high 35 kicks for a league-high 1,017 yards in 2020, Patterson totaled just 34 returns over the last three seasons.

That should change in 2024, and the Steelers should benefit. As our own John Breech detailed earlier on Tuesday, the rule changes will be as follows:

Of the 22 players on the field for the play, 21 of them will be in the receiving team's territory. That number will break down like this for the kicking team: 

  • Kicker will be by himself. The kicker will set up the ball at his own 35-yard line and after kicking it, he won't be able to cross midfield until the ball is in play. The ball will be considered in play if the returner catches it or if the ball hits the ground in the landing zone or if the ball gets to the end zone. 
  • Coverage team will be lined up together. The other 10 players on the kicking team will be lining up at the receiving team's 40-yard line. Each player has to have at least one foot on the 40 before the play can start. Also, the kicking team has to have five players on each side of ball, so they won't be able to load up to one side. 

As for the receiving team, their setup will be slightly different. 

  • Most of the receiving team will be at the 35-yard line. The receiving team has a 5-yard setup zone that runs from its own 30 to its 35-yard line. Seven players from the receiving team must have their foot on the 35-yard line. The receiving team can also have two more players who are in the setup zone, but who aren't touching the 35-yard line. Those two players will be lined up outside the hashes. 
  • Receiving team can have two returners. The receiving team can put one or two returners back to field the football, but if they decide to utilize just one returner, then the extra player will have to line up in the set-up zone between the 30- and 35-yard line. 

The changes should allow for a greater number of returns, while hopefully still reducing the number of injuries on what has previously been the NFL's most dangerous play, when it comes to injury rates. 

And if and when Patterson gets a chance to return kicks, he is likely going to make some big plays. That's just what he does. He can also provide value as both a running back and wide receiver, both of which he has played at different times throughout his career. Pittsburgh has two backs it likes in Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, but Patterson is a different type of player than them both, and the team is certainly in need of pass-catching help after trading Diontae Johnson earlier this offseason.