The NFL will immediately begin suspending players for dangerous and flagrant hits that violate rules, particularly those involving helmets.
Suspensions will be in place for this weekend’s games and could be handed out for hits that took place last Sunday, vice president of football operations Ray Anderson said Tuesday.
In the past, players were either fined or ejected for illegal hits. But after the series of recent flagrant tackles, several of which resulted in concussions, the NFL ramped up the punishment ”for egregious and elevated hits,” Anderson said.
Players and teams are usually notified on Wednesdays of fines and the league confirms them publicly on Friday. But suspensions need to be determined earlier in the week to allow a team to prepare for competing without that player.
Among the hits getting attention last weekend:
• The Eagles’ DeSean Jackson and the Falcons’ Dunta Robinson were knocked out of their game after a frightening collision in which Robinson launched himself head first to make a tackle. Both sustained concussions.
• Ravens tight end Todd Heap took a vicious hit from Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather that Heap called ”one of those hits that shouldn’t happen.”
• The Steelers’ James Harrison sidelined two Browns players with head injuries after jarring hits. An NFL spokesman said one of the tackles, on Joshua Cribbs, was legal. The Browns were more upset about Harrison’s hit on Mohamed Massaquoi, which the league is reviewing.
Not only is the league worried about defenders turning themselves into human missiles, but also with them aiming for the head with the forearm, shoulder or any other body part.
”We’re certainly concerned,” said Anderson, a member of the league’s competition committee and one of its loudest voices on the need for enhanced player safety. ”The fundamentally old way of wrapping up and tackling seems to have faded away. A lot of the increase is from hits to blow guys up. That has become a more popular way of doing it.
”Yes, we are concerned they are getting away from the fundamentals of tackling, and maybe it has been coached that way. We’re going to have to look into talking to our coaches.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin favored stricter enforcement of helmet hits.
”I’m all for player safety,” Tomlin said Tuesday. ”I think it is the proper initiative that the NFL has. I think we need to safeguard the men that play this game to the best of our abilities and make it as safe as we can.
”We’ve used words like flagrant and egregious and lowering the strike zone and those are words you use as a coach to make sure you’re playing within the rules …”
Tomlin, however, still thinks Harrison’s tackle on Massaquoi was legal.
After players around the league had the chance to view some of those hits, reactions to possible suspensions were mixed. Texans tackle Eric Winston, a former college teammate of Meriweather at Miami, and a former teammate of Robinson in Houston, saw dissimilarities in the two tackles involving those players.
”I love Brandon to death, but that was a flagrant foul. That’s what the league is talking about,” Winston said. ”Dunta’s hit, that wasn’t even with the helmet. That was just a collision. I don’t think that’s what they’re talking about. I think they’re talking more about the Meriweather stuff, where it’s not only leading with your helmet, but it’s also a launching. You know it when you see it, and there’s a difference.
”I’m the first one to say that not every penalty should be a fine. But there is a difference between whether it’s a flagrant-ejection kind of a hit or whether it’s a 15-yard penalty.”
Andre Johnson, the Texans’ All-Pro wide receiver, noted that some of the violence can’t be removed from the sport.
”A lot of times, guys are just out there playing and they’ll just go and get you,” he said. ”I don’t really think they’re thinking about the helmet-to-helmet contact.
”You’ll probably see a lot of players more hesitant before they make their hits.”