While Steeler Nation was still reeling from the disappointing loss to the Ravens on Sunday night Roger Goodell had his team of puppets throw darts at a board with various amounts of money listed on it to determine the fines for this week’s “illegal hits”. I’m just assuming that’s who the process goes for the NFL’s football operations office, headed by Ray Anderson, the office that technically rules on player fines and appeals. What was determined through that intricate and thorough investigation was that Steeler’s Safety Ryan Clark was to be fined $40K for his hit on Baltimore TE Ed Dickson, while Ravens LB Ray Lewis was fined $20K for his hit on Hines Ward. The officials in the game ruled Clark’s hit a personal foul for unnecessary roughness while Lewis’ hit was missed by the officials.
What is most upsetting about the whole process of player fines for these so-called “illegal hits” is the inconsistency by which these plays are called on the field and the varying amounts in the fines. There really is no rhyme or reason as to why some players are fined a certain amount while others are fined less or more. There’s no pattern or scale that’s used, there’s no standard to show the different levels of hits and what makes one hit more expensive than the other. There’s also major disparity on the playing field when these hits are actually called as fouls during the games. The logic by which you can fine a player 3 days after a game is over for a hit that is deemed illegal and dangerous, but the team of the player that was hit never benefitted from 15 yards and a first down during the actual game baffles me.
To prove that this is not just the ramblings of a disgruntled yinzer both Ryan Clark and Ray Lewis feel the same way. Ryan Clark was extremely upset in interviews yesterday after receiving a fine for the second consecutive week from Goodell. Last week Clark was fined $15K for a late hit out of bounds on Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski. Clark was apologetic for his fine of last week saying that he was going to work better to not let his team down but was confused and upset about the fine this week considering the play was broken down by the team and seemed textbook. Upon closer review of the play, there was clear helmet-to-helmet contact, but Clark did not lead with his helmet and in fact, Dickson was not even taken out of the game afterwards. Take a look at the play for yourself.
Normally, I can’t stand Chris Collingsworth and don’t agree with anything that comes out of his mouth but he is right on with his comment that, “In any other era, this is a great play.” How else is a defensive player supposed to make the play in that instance? Are defensive players really supposed to just allow the receiver to catch the ball and then make their move? What’s the point of playing defense then? Clark’s response to the fine was;
"This time it’s wrong. Not that I respected Roger before this."
On the other side of the field was the hit on Hines Ward. The Ravens spent the entire week leading up to the game trash talking every aspect of the rivalry and making a notable effort to express that they hoped Ward would be playing in the game. Ward had sat out the previous Steeler game against the Patriots due to an ankle injury. Ray Lewis, known for setting “bounties” on Steeler players, came across and launched himself helmet first towards Ward, jarring the ball loose after the catch. Lewis was fined $20K for the hit and was quoted as saying,
"The thing is you definitely respect them trying to protect player safety. At the same time, it won’t change not one way I play this week no matter what the fine is. You can’t stop playing defense the way defense has always been created to play. When the receiver has the ball, your job is to disengage him from the ball. You never want to hurt nobody. I’ve been in this business too long. I just think once you start getting into these fines I don’t know how they come up with the numbers most of the time."
Even Ray Lewis questions the process by which they come up with these numbers for the fines. That’s because they don’t make sense. The Steelers were the only team to vote “No” on the CBA citing the fact that the issue involving the Commissioner’s fine process was not addressed. Ben Roethlisberger called out NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith to “stand up and do something to protect players”.
To be fair, here’s the hit from Ray Lewis to Hines Ward
Now I don’t have the perfect solution for this whole mess but the current process is clearly faulty. If this so-called committee takes the time to review these potentially dangerous plays in the name of player safety, then why are they not differentiating between intentional helmet-to-helmet hits and unintentional ones? How does it improve player safety to fine a player for a helmet hit that didn’t cause any injury to the player? $40,000 and the player Clark hit never even left the game. I’m not saying that you only take action when there was a player lying on the field and the cart has to be called out but there’s clearly disparity between intentionally violent hits and unintentional ones. Kind of like the difference between Clark’s hit on Gronkowski and his hit on Dickson.
Clearly I’m just going to focus on fines and hits concerning the Steelers but it’s all across the league, on every sports talk show and message boards, the flags and the fines are out of control this year. It seems like every incomplete pass with contact is flagged for pass interference while offensive pass interference has become a thing of the past. Players aren’t allowed to get anywhere near a quarterback and forget about trying to make a play on a ball because every receiver is a “defenseless receiver”. This isn’t the NFL we all know and love. Of course we as fans don’t want to see players lying unconscious but there has to be some middle ground between turning the league into a watered down version of itself and a league where players are in threat of losing their lives. I hope as well that DeMaurice Smith takes some kind of action as to trying to improve the current system, either get some independent agencies to review these plays or attempt to take some of the power involved in the process away from Goodell if that’s possible under the CBA. If not, the next 10 years of this CBA could see the NFL turn into the National Flag Football League.