In a usual NFL week, a player will receive notice of his fine on Tuesday or Wednesday following that Sunday’s game. News of the fine will leak to the media as early as Wednesday and as late as Friday. Players always have the option to appeal, but the results of appeals are rarely known or reported.
On Monday morning as you were pouring your coffee, the NFL took the unusual step of publicly announcing it would not fine Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for his hop into the Salvation Army’s oversized red kettle on Sunday night. The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell smartly avoided an unnecessary controversy by not taking $12,154 out of Elliott’s pocket when his action brought in, conservatively, a couple hundred thousand dollars to a universally good cause.
The NFL fine chart takes care of dozens of fine-worthy penalties and actions with absurdly specific and seemingly arbitrary amounts. Spearing a player results in a $24,309 fine. Unnecessarily entering a fight area with no active involvement will cost you $3,037.
While the league got it right on Elliott, the system remains broken. Here are three plays or actions that I believe the league should begin fining, and three that it should stop fining.
Fining players has appeared to cut down on flopping in the NBA while also giving a scarlet letter to players who do it more often than others. That public shaming seems to have cut out some, but not all, flopping techniques that pervaded pro basketball.
I’d venture to say that the American football fans who do not enjoy soccer feel that way, in part, because of ridiculous flopping that takes place in the world’s largest sport. There aren’t nearly as many instances of flopping in the NFL as there are in basketball or soccer, but look closely and you’ll find them. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had an all-time flop in a playoff loss to San Francisco three seasons ago when Ahmad Brooks tried to time up the snap near the goal line. Chiefs coach Andy Reid accused a Texan of flopping on a kick-return touchdown in Kansas City’s Week 2 loss to Houston. Vontaze Burfict’s flop drew an unnecessary roughness penalty on Ravens receiver Steve Smith in Week 12, but neither player would be fined for their actions that week.
Act like a photographer while your teammate who just scored poses? There goes your 12k. Do Sugar Hill Gang’s Apache (Jump on it) dance after a sack with your fellow defensive lineman? Your check will be lighter next week.
Dean Blandino, the head of NFL’s officiating, explained in a video earlier this season that cracking down on this will put deter players from trying to one-up opponents.
“Believe me, if we let this go, it will continue to grow and certain players will continue to try to outdo each other, and then it leads to other things,” Blandino said. “Players stomping on logos, and players hitting those players stomping on logos.”
Before Monday night’s game, defensive pass interference had been flagged 249 times this season. There were another 187 defensive holding penalties, and the majority of those were surely defenders grasping eligible receivers before the ball was in the air. There are another 44 illegal contact flags.
By comparison, offensive pass interference has been called just 82 times this season.
The point of this being that, in a pass-happy league, receivers can get away with just about anything these days. Only offensive holding (mostly by linemen) and false starts are called more than DPI. The flags are going to fly, but if you beg for one, you get fined.
This does not apply to the “personal message” part of the rulebook. While I disagree with most of the NFL’s fines in that department, I understand the slippery slope the league faces and why it must rule with an iron hand there. But how is the league’s product tainted by players wearing cleats that are not their team’s colors? The NFL is coming off its uber-successful My Cleats, My Cause campaign from Week 13, and no one complained about players’ various cleats being an eyesore (whether for charity or not). The NFL world kept spinning into Week 14, and wearing cleats of a different color is a victimless crime.
Like receivers, NFL quarterbacks have been the beneficiaries of rules that allow them to succeed while disproportionally affecting defenders. Graze the side of a quarterback’s helmet with your hand and it’s a 15-yard penalty even though you got the sack. That is clearly unfair for what ultimately amounts to incidental contact.
The current intentional grounding penalty is both a 10-yard penalty and loss of down. I would like to see the penalty be 15 yards, but I’ll keep it at 10 to see this fine passes. And because the rule isn’t perfect—throwing the ball into the ground 4 feet in front of your running back on a “screen” should be grounding—there needs to be a fine.
NFL quarterbacks make more money than any other position but avoid most penalties that result in fines because of the nature of their jobs. That comes to an end with a grounding fine, whose steepness is commiserate to their pay scale.
Finally, I would not fine a player for using the football as a prop. That fine, which matches choreographed celebrations at $12,154, will be no more. This does not mean you can go hog-wild with props. There will be no Joe Horn cell phones, Terrell Owens’ pompoms or Chad Johnson pylons as putters. In fact, and with apologies to Jimmy Graham, you still cannot use the goalposts as a prop. I am granting each player one universal prop: the football. (Obviously this stands in direct contradiction to Elliott’s kettle jump, but the NFL exercised common sense there and so would I.)
You can get as creative as you want with the football, which is the one item in your “Chopped” food basket. Since we have done any with the fine for choreographed celebrations, you may line your teammates up like bowling lines and knock them over with the ball. Want to spin the ball like the 2000 Rams and huddle up around it for warmth? Knock yourselves out.
Imagine this: The Patriots are hosting an AFC opponent in the conference championship in Foxboro in late January. It’s the first AFC title game there since Deflategate. A defensive back picks off Tom Brady and returns the pass for a touchdown.
There in the end zone, the player gets on his knees, acts as if he’s inserting a needle into the ball and imitates an air-pumping motion to inflate New England’s intercepted ball.