Suspensions for violent hits begin now
The NFL will immediately begin suspending players for dangerous and flagrant hits that violate rules, particularly those involving helmets.
Suspensions will be in place for this weekend's games and could be handed out for hits that took place last Sunday, vice president of football operations Ray Anderson said Tuesday.
In the past, players were either fined or ejected for illegal hits. But after the series of recent flagrant tackles, several of which resulted in concussions, the NFL ramped up the punishment ''for egregious and elevated hits,'' Anderson said.
Players and teams are usually notified on Wednesdays of fines and the league confirms them publicly on Friday. But suspensions need to be determined earlier in the week to allow a team to prepare for competing without that player.
Among the hits getting attention last weekend:
• The Eagles' DeSean Jackson and the Falcons' Dunta Robinson were knocked out of their game after a frightening collision in which Robinson launched himself head first to make a tackle. Both sustained concussions.
• Ravens tight end Todd Heap took a vicious hit from Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather that Heap called ''one of those hits that shouldn't happen.''
• The Steelers' James Harrison sidelined two Browns players with head injuries after jarring hits. An NFL spokesman said one of the tackles, on Joshua Cribbs, was legal. The Browns were more upset about Harrison's hit on Mohamed Massaquoi.
Meriweather and Robinson were fined $50,000. The Massaquoi hit cost Harrison $75,000, causing him to say he would have to consider if he still has a future in the sport.
"I'm going to sit down and have a serious conversation with my coach tomorrow and see if I can actually play by NFL rules and still be effective. If not, I may have to give up playing football," Harrison said Tuesday on Fox Sports Radio's "Into The Night with Tony Bruno."
Harrison later added that if a solution can't be reached, "I'm going to have to try and find a way that I may possibly get out of whatever agreement I agreed to with the Steelers."
Not only is the league worried about defenders turning themselves into human missiles, but also with them aiming for the head with the forearm, shoulder or any other body part.
''We're certainly concerned,'' said Anderson, a member of the league's competition committee and one of its loudest voices on the need for enhanced player safety. ''The fundamentally old way of wrapping up and tackling seems to have faded away. A lot of the increase is from hits to blow guys up. That has become a more popular way of doing it.
''Yes, we are concerned they are getting away from the fundamentals of tackling, and maybe it has been coached that way. We're going to have to look into talking to our coaches.''
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin favored stricter enforcement of helmet hits.
''I'm all for player safety,'' Tomlin said Tuesday. ''I think it is the proper initiative that the NFL has. I think we need to safeguard the men that play this game to the best of our abilities and make it as safe as we can.
''We've used words like flagrant and egregious and lowering the strike zone and those are words you use as a coach to make sure you're playing within the rules ...''
Tomlin, however, still thinks Harrison's tackle on Massaquoi was legal.
So does Harrison.
"All you have to do is look at the tape," Harrison told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an interview on Tuesday, before the fine was levied by the NFL.
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."
After players around the league had the chance to view some of those hits, reactions to possible suspensions were mixed. Texans tackle Eric Winston, a former college teammate of Meriweather at Miami, and a former teammate of Robinson in Houston, saw dissimilarities in the two tackles involving those players.
''I love Brandon to death, but that was a flagrant foul. That's what the league is talking about,'' Winston said. ''Dunta's hit, that wasn't even with the helmet. That was just a collision. I don't think that's what they're talking about. I think they're talking more about the Meriweather stuff, where it's not only leading with your helmet, but it's also a launching. You know it when you see it, and there's a difference.
''I'm the first one to say that not every penalty should be a fine. But there is a difference between whether it's a flagrant-ejection kind of a hit or whether it's a 15-yard penalty.''
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 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.”
Andre Johnson, the Texans' All-Pro wide receiver, noted that some of the violence can't be removed from the sport.
''A lot of times, guys are just out there playing and they'll just go and get you,'' he said. ''I don't really think they're thinking about the helmet-to-helmet contact.
''You'll probably see a lot of players more hesitant before they make their hits.''