Reed situation shows NFL dilemma

Ed Reed situation shows NFL's safety mandate isn't cut and dry.

Left to walk after nine years by the Baltimore Ravens last offseason, San Diego Chargers linebacker Jarrett Jones has reason to stick it to his former club when the two teams meet on Sunday.

Yet even he felt the since-overturned one-game suspension against Ravens safety Ed Reed was extreme.

“I thought it was totally BS that they were going to suspend him without pay,” Jones told reporters on a conference call at the Ravens’ training facility this week. “It would have been pretty good break for us. I thought the suspension was ridiculous.”

The suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit delivered to Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders would have cost Reed a game check (about $423,000) before it was converted to a $50,000 fine on Tuesday. The original penalty would have also robbed the Ravens of the All-Pro safety in a secondary that has already lost Lardarius Webb (torn ACL) and Jimmy Smith (groin surgery).

This was the NFL’s way of sending a message on player safety even if Sanders wasn't injured on the play. It was certainly one of the loudest since the league has taken the issue of head trauma more seriously as scientific evidence and concussion lawsuits mount. While Reed had been fined twice before for illegal hits and considered a repeat offender, Reed isn’t seen as an out-of-control player -- not that it mattered to league officials.

“We would never accuse Ed of headhunting,” Ray Anderson, NFL Executive VP of Football Operations, said on NFL Network earlier in the week. “But unfortunately the technique and the result have been illegal hits on defenseless players.”

Players, however, seem to be stuck on the word “dirty” -- either as a player or a certain play in particular -- and not on the overall league effort to limit any kind of head trauma via altering behavior with on- and off-field penalties.

“Everybody knows Ed Reed is not a dirty player,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It was not intentional. It was a football play. They looked at it and saw it. That’s why he was able to win the appeal so fast. I’m happy for him. It’s unfortunate he had to come out of his pocket a little bit.”

Fines and suspensions are never going to win much favor with players, despite the research behind the debilitating, lifelong effects of repeated head trauma. Beyond player safety on the NFL level, the league is also attempting to set an example with rules that limit hits to the head and more stringent return-to-play standards for youth players.

But Ravens safety Bernard Pollard said it’s universally accepted that football is a dangerous game.

“We as football players know and understand what we’re signing up for," Pollard said. "When I was young, I knew what I was getting myself into. Parents and young players know what they’re getting into. For us, we signed up for this. There’s a possibility every single day something can snap or something that can go wrong.”

The NFL has nearly 4,000 reasons (the number of concussion lawsuits filed by former players) to feel otherwise. The game, like it or not, is changing, even if all the league’s efforts aren’t always successful --- like its suspension of Reed.

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