NFL levies huge fines for hits to head

October 19, 2010

The NFL had been talking tough the past 24 hours about suspending players who had been making illegal hits on defenseless players, but no suspensions were handed down Tuesday.

Linebacker James Harrison (Pittsburgh Steelers), cornerback Dunta Robinson (Atlanta Falcons) and free safety Brandon Meriweather (New England Patriots) were fined a total of $175,000 for illegal hits from last week’s games, but why weren’t they suspended?

“Fair warning needed to be given to players and clubs before increased discipline starts to include game suspensions,” said Greg Aiello, the NFL senior vice president of public relations. “A communication will go to the clubs, coaches, and players tomorrow about the increased discipline for violations of player safety rules.”

Meriweather has been fined $50,000 for his hits on Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap. Meriweather carries a $550,000 base salary, which equates to a $32,352 weekly salary.

During an appearance on Boston radio station WEEI, Meriweather said the hits represented a “split-second decision” to be aggressive.

“I just attacked,” Meriweather told the radio station. “I wasn’t trying to hit head-to-head contact or injure anybody or play dirty in any kind of way. It just happened.

”I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. I was playing aggressive and something happened. I’m trying not to look at it and make it a big deal, like everybody else is doing. … It’s football. You’ve got a lot of good players, where you think one thing, and another thing can happen in a split-second. So, you’ve always got to make a split-second decision, and my split-second decision was to be aggressive and not wait for it.”

Robinson also has been fined $50,000 for his hit on Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson wound up suffering a concussion and will not be able to play this week against the Tennessee Titans. Robinson is carrying a $5 million base salary this season, which equates to $294,117 per week.

The play was so vicious that both players left the game and did not return. Robinson drew a 15-yard penalty on the play.

“This is a real tough play for a defender going full speed at the receiver. Robinson didn't launch, but he did lower his head and made contact on what appeared to be on the left shoulder,”'s Mike Pereira, a former NFL vice president of officiating, explained.

Robinson could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, as Falcons players had the day off. However, on Monday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted Falcons coach Mike Smith as describing Robinson as "a guy that plays the game very, very hard. That was a bang-bang play in terms of the contact. From my vantage point, it looked like there was no helmet-to-helmet contact. But it was a bang-bang play. I’m glad that both of those guys are going to be all right. It was a big-time hit.”

Harrison has been fined $75,000 for his hit on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, and reportedly received a more substantial penalty because the NFL considers him to be a repeat offender.

Harrison also had another hard hit on receiver Josh Cribbs in that game, but that was ruled a legal hit. Harrison is carrying a $755,000 base salary, which equates to $44,411 per week.

“The hit by James Harrison against Cribbs was legal. But his hit on Massaquoi was not, and should have been called,” Pereria said during his weekly Tuesday chat at

The hit on Massaquoi "was a legal hit," Harrison told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an interview on Tuesday, before the fine was levied by the NFL.

"All you have to do is look at the tape," Harrison said.

Harrison said he was not aiming for Massaquoi's head and tried to pull off of him. He believes he's being targeted because of media opinion against him.

"If I get fined it's because anybody out there who has a camera in their face or a pen in their hand is writing their opinion and it's all the same. I just happened to be one of the bigger names who hit somebody last weekend."

Harrison told the Post-Gazette his hit was "nowhere near the magnitude of the Patriots' Meriweather's hit on the Ravens' Heap. He described that as "a nasty hit."