The NFL declined to suspend Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor for spitting in the face of an opponent Saturday, instead fining him $17,000 yesterday.
Taylor was ejected in the third quarter of the Redskins' 17-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for spitting on Bucs running back Michael Pittman.
The Redskins were concerned the league would suspend Taylor and that he would not be eligible to play in their divisional playoff game against the Seahawks in Seattle on Saturday.
"We can't afford to lose somebody like that," coach Joe Gibbs said. "Sean is so valuable to us. We had a long talk with him afterwards. He understands that. He is all football. He wants to play. He is one of our leaders. He had an outstanding year."
Taylor, who was not available for comment, is in the second season of a seven-year, $18 million contract that included a $7.2 million signing bonus. Taylor was selected by the Redskins with the No. 5 pick in the 2004 draft, and his short career has been troubled.
Cincinnati Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh accused Taylor of spitting on him during a game last season.
Taylor is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 17 on a felony assault and simple battery charge stemming from an incident in Miami last year in which police said he pointed a gun at two people and physically assaulted one.
Taylor also was charged with drunken driving in October 2004. That charge later was dropped.
The fine was the equivalent of the player's paycheck for the playoff game, and it was the latest in a growing list of financial setbacks for him from the league.
Taylor was fined $25,000 for missing a mandatory rookie symposium in 2004 and $17,500 twice this season for violating the NFL's uniform policy.
In addition to the ejection, Taylor's action in Saturday's victory drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. The Redskins were clinging to a 17-10 lead, and the penalty turned a fourth-down punting situation into a first down for the Bucs.
It was the fourth time this season Taylor had drawn a 15-yard penalty: He was flagged for a crackback block against the Chicago Bears, unnecessary roughness against the New York Giants and a flagrant face mask against the St. Louis Rams.
Taylor denied spitting on Pittman, according to teammates and coaches.
"Sean said he didn't do it," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "One thing about Sean, if he does something, he is probably not going to deny it. If he is going to knock you out, he is probably going to knock you out. If he says he is going to spit on you, he is probably going to do it. He said he didn't do it, so I don't think he did."
Taylor had been a menacing force and perhaps the team's best defensive player. Lately, he also has been a source of points: He returned a fumble 39 yards for a touchdown that clinched a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Redskins' final regular-season game Jan. 1. On Saturday, he returned a fumble 51 yards for a touchdown that gave the Redskins a 14-0 lead over the Bucs.
Despite all his fines, some teammates said Taylor has matured since his rookie season.
"This year I think he did a great job of coming in and taking care of business on the field and off the field, staying out of trouble," defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. "To me, he has turned his life around. I don't know what you all see, but he is talking to the media more. He has been a more positive guy. He's been a great role model on the field."
Gibbs said he could not determine from film whether Taylor spit, adding, "Hopefully it will be something that never happens again."