NFL to fine clubs for series of flagrant
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The NFL will punish teams next season if their players commit multiple flagrant hits that result in fines.
The punishment will be financial, although league vice president Adolpho Birch said Tuesday he didn’t rule out Commissioner Roger Goodell applying further sanctions such as stripping clubs of draft choices.
Citing the “notion of club accountability,” Birch said details such as the amount of the fines against clubs, or how many player fines would trigger punishment, have not been determined.
“As a club’s total increases to a certain threshold, we will enforce some … payback to encourage clubs to stay below that threshold,” Birch said. “We’re looking at a system similar to one we instituted a couple years ago with off-field conduct.”
The NFL began a crackdown on illegal hits, particularly those to defenseless players, last October. It threatened suspensions, but no players had to sit out games. However, Ray Anderson, the league’s chief disciplinarian, has said suspensions will be considered for egregious hits this season.
Now, clubs as well as the players are being put on notice that illegal hits will result in substantial discipline.
Birch would not identify which teams from 2010 would have been subject to fines had the policy been in place, but did say at least three teams might have been punished. One player, Pittsburgh All-Pro linebacker James Harrison, was fined $100,000 for flagrant hits last season.
“We’ll check the number of fines and the level of fines going out for infractions that relate to various player safety violations,” Birch said. “Particularly head and helmet issues.”
The 32 owners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve rules amendments for player safety, including a measure aimed at keeping a player from launching himself into a defenseless opponent. A 15-yard penalty will result for anyone who leaves both feet before contact to spring forward and upward into an opponent and delivers a blow to the helmet with any part of his helmet.
Such tackles will also be subject to fines.
The definition of a defenseless receiver already has been extended. Now, a receiver who has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner even if both feet are on the ground is considered defenseless.
Defenseless players cannot be hit in the head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm or shoulder. The definition of such players now includes those throwing a pass; attempting or completing a catch without having time to ward off or avoid contact; a runner whose forward progress has been stopped by a tackler; kickoff or punt returners while the ball is in the air; kickers or punters during a kick or a return; a quarterback during a change of possession; a player who receives a blindside block from a blocker moving toward his own end zone.
Penalized players are subject to being ejected for flagrant fouls.
“This should permanently change the mentality of a defensive player trying to loosen the ball to change your target point,” said competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons.
Also, hits to the head of a passer that are not considered “forcible” blows will not be penalized.