Baltimore Ravens free safety Ed Reed is set to miss his team's Week 12 matchup at the San Diego Chargers after being handed a one-game suspension from the NFL. The disciplinary action stems from his big hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on Sunday night.
The hit, in which Reed launched himself at the head and neck area of the "defenseless" Sanders, resulted in a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty against the 11-year veteran—the third called against Reed since 2010.
According to the league, multiple violations that result in fining since the year 2010 can be used against a player after any subsequent violation, with suspension the ultimate penalty.
Per the league's official release, Reed had been fined or otherwise penalized for unnecessary roughness twice since 2010—a $10,000 fine in 2010 for a hit on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and $21,000 fine earlier this season after hurling himself at New England Patriots receiver Deion Branch.
The loss of Reed—even for just one game—is horrible news for a Ravens defense that can't afford to have any more starters off the field. Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh noted that the suspension is going to be "a blow" without Reed active for this Sunday's game at San Diego, especially considering the Ravens are also without their two starting cornerbacks at present.
Though the suspension is aligned with both the league's disciplinary policy and its heightened focus on player safety—at specific offensive skill positions only, it seems—it does come off as rather heavy-handed, regardless of the severity of the hit Reed put on Sanders.
There are more elements at work than maliciousness or a blatant disregard for rules when a defensive player is trying to tackle a receiver or quarterback. Minor shifts in one player's shoulder or head cannot always be reacted to quickly enough to prevent a helmet-to-helmet collision, and often times, the player on the receiving end of the hit is just as culpable for it as the defender who ultimately is at fault.
The other issue is with the span of time over which a player can be considered "eligible" for suspension. While there certainly needs to be a system in place to punish repeat offenders of player safety rules, the time limit for when a player can be considered for these punishments is too arbitrary.
The fact that Reed's suspension is linked back to a hit he made in the 2010 season—ancient history in a league like the NFL and, most notably, a time when the current collective bargaining agreement was not in effect—makes this particular suspension worthy of the side-eye.
Player distrust of the league hasn't dropped off since the lockout ended last year, so it's not far-fetched to assume this Reed suspension has come about for reasons beyond the hit on Sanders.
Reed—as well as Harbaugh—drew the ire of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and a $20,000 fine in October of this year for failing to list Reed on the injury report after he admitted to playing through a shoulder injury earlier that month. Once a player has caught Goodell's eye, it does seem quite difficult to get him to look away.
Interestingly enough, that same shoulder injury might have ultimately caused Reed to make that particular hit on Sanders. Reed's tackling has suffered this season with his shoulder far less than 100 percent, leaving him to find other ways to neutralize receivers.
Unable to wrap up Sanders, his instincts led him to execute a hit that was against the rules. Reed launched himself and nearly cost both himself and Sanders significant playing time. However, the fact that it resulted in a suspension due to rule violations that date back to nearly two years ago makes it seem like a knee-jerk reaction by the league rather than a reaffirmation of the NFL's commitment to (some) players' safety.
Update: The Ravens have announced that Reed's appeal of the suspension has been successful; he will now pay a $50,000 fine and miss no time for the hit on Sanders:
#Ravens safety Ed Reed's suspension has been lifted. Punishment reduced to a $50,000 fine.— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 20, 2012