What Does Defer Mean In Football?

If you have watched a coin toss in football you have likely heard the term defer, trouble is many fans do not know what this term means.

To defer in football means your team’s decision to kick or receive the ball will be postponed until the second half. In other words, the deferring team will start with the ball in the second half instead of the first half.

During a coin toss, the captains of both teams are going to meet at the center of the field. The away captain will call the coin toss as it is in the air.

Once the winner of the coin toss is declared he will be able to receive the ball, kick the ball, or defer.

The way that the coin toss is set up is that each team will get to choose between kicking the ball or receiving the ball once per game (unless the game goes to overtime).

The team that wins the coin toss is going to be the team that chooses first. Choosing to kick the ball is something that is never done in the NFL. The reason for this is that choosing to kick the ball means your team will not start with the ball in either half.

This is because each team is entitled to choosing to kick or receive once per game they are not entitled to receiving the ball once per game.

This means when you win a kickoff you are effectively choosing between receiving the ball or deferring your decision.

This decision really boils down to whether a team would like to start with the ball in the first half or whether they want to start with it in the second half.

Pros And Cons Of Deferring In Football?

Now that we understand that choosing to defer means getting the ball in the second half vs the first half it’s time to determine why teams choose this. After all, ESPN data reports that 83% of coaches choose to defer the coin toss.


Late Game Possession

One of the main reasons that coaches choose to defer in football is because it is going to give them one more possession in the second half.

When a team receives the ball in a half they will usually possess it one more time than their opponent does in that half.

Having this extra possession can be more impactful in the second half compared to the first. The later into the game the more information a coach will have on what they need to do with that extra possession.

Better Rythmn In Second Half

Another reason teams choose to defer the coin toss is that the team often does not find their rhythm until later in the game.

The first possession of the game is not always the smoothest oftentimes resulting in little yards gained. Saving the extra possession for a later point in the game means your team is more likely to be in the swing of things.

Potential To Steal A Possession

The final positive of deferring the coin toss is the ability to steal a possession. Stealing of possession refers to the action of ending the first half with the ball yet also receiving it to start the second half.

When a team elects to defer they will establish they receiver the ball to start the second half. If this team is able to complete their drive around the time the first half expires they will effectively get back to back possessions of the football.

This provides a team with one more opportunity than their opponents to put together a scoring drive.


Difficult To Get Early Lead

One negative aspect of choosing to defer is your team is less likely to get an early lead. When a team gets first possession of the ball they have a much better chance of getting the first score.

Getting a lead in football can greatly change the play calling from both teams. The inability to get an early lead can make it more difficult to pull out a win especially for run-heavy teams.

Opposing Team Sets The Tone

The team that elects to receive the ball first is going to have the opportunity to set the tone for the game. Whether they want to sling the ball around or play hardnosed run-heavy offense the first team with the ball gets to choose.

This isn’t a huge advantage in the game of football but punching your opponent in the mouth with your first drive can often change the momentum of the whole game.

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