Football Illegal Forward Handoff Penalty

Football Illegal Forward Handoff Penalty

In football, a player on the offense is permitted to throw the ball forward only once during a play. Once the ball has been thrown forward (from behind the line of scrimmage) it can not be thrown or handed off forward. If a player gives the ball to a teammate who is in front of them after a forward pass, this is known as an illegal forward handoff. The result of the play is a five yard penalty from the original spot of the ball on the offense.


An illegal forward handoff in football is called when a player who has already caught a forward pass hands the ball off in a forward direction to one of their teammates. This penalty is different from an illegal forward pass because the player with the ball would be handing it off to their teammate, not attempting a second forward pass.

If a player catches a forward pass, they can only attempt to give the ball to teammates via backwards passes or a lateral. This is commonly seen late in the game when a team is too far from the end zone to throw a hail mary, but if a handoff is given to a player who is in front of the ball, an illegal forward handoff penalty will be called. Players on the professional level typically have enough awareness to not commit this penalty, making it one of the more rare calls to be seen made. However, when it does happen it is usually clear and obvious to the referee and an easy call to make.

Forward handoffs after a forward pass that have already been caught are illegal in football because the ball can only be advanced one time per play, and that advancement must be done behind the line of scrimmage. Forward handoffs are permitted behind the line of scrimmage as long as a forward pass has not already been thrown.


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An illegal forward handoff in football will result in a five yard penalty on the offense. This penalty can not be called on the defense, as defenders do not have the opportunity to pass the ball. The five yard penalty is deducted from the original line of scrimmage. It is not a very costly penalty, but it is one you do not want to see called on your team.

Penalty Signal

Football Penalty Signal Illegal Forward Pass

When calling an illegal forward handoff, the referee will put their right hand behind their back and keep their left arm at their side to signal the penalty.


  • The quarterback completes a pass downfield to a receiver. Then the receiver proceeds to hand the ball to another member of their team who is standing in front of him. The action by the receiver is an illegal forward handoff.
  • A running back is given a legal handoff and has taken the ball down the field. If the player hands the ball off in a forward direction, the penalty is called because the player has already crossed the line of scrimmage and can not move the ball forward.
  • A player fields a kick return and is running it down the field. If the player hands the ball off ahead of them, it is an illegal forward handoff, even on a kick return.

Similar Penalties To Illegal Forward Handoff