We're two weeks into the 2013 NFL season. That means two weeks worth of players hitting one another on the football field and two weeks of the commissioner's office hitting players in the wallets.
Logic and reason apply to only one of those pursuits.
Already this season, we've had a $100,000 fine levied. A one-game suspension was reduced on appeal to another 100-grand slap across the checkbook.
That would be fine (pardon the pun) if the rules were being applied in a fair and equitable manner to all. Player safety is important. Headhunting and blindside blocks at a player's knees shouldn't be tolerated.
However, they aren't being applied that way. Players are being fined for plays that don't even draw a penalty, and a player's reputation seems to have more to do with the fines that are levied than the offense he commits.
Believe it or not, there is supposed to be a method to the madness. Back in 2011, after the new collective bargaining agreement was signed, the NFL released a schedule of the minimum fine amounts for various on-field transgressions.
|Hit on a Defenseless Player||$20,000|
|Roughing the Passer||$15,000|
Fines Double for Subsequent Offenses
According to the CBA, "The designated minimum fine amounts will increase by 5 percent for the 2012 League Year, and each League Year thereafter during the term of this Agreement."
The CBA also states that "[w]here circumstances warrant, including, but not limited to, infractions that were flagrant and gratuitous, larger fines, suspension or other discipline may be imposed."
That's where we get into trouble. The "circumstances."
Let's take a look at three recent fines that were handed down by the commissioner's office.
|Ndamukong Suh||$100,000||Low Block|
|Dashon Goldson||Suspension*||Hit on a Defenseless Player|
|Brandon Meriweather||$42,000||Helmet-to-Helmet Hit|
*Reduced on Appeal to $100,000 Fine
Ndamukong Suh's $100,000 fine was for a low block on John Sullivan of the Minnesota Vikings.
Brandon Meriweather was fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit that left rookie running back Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers with a concussion.
Both Suh and Goldson have a history of making "questionable" plays. Suh has lost over $300,000 in his career to fines and suspensions. According to Spotrac, Goldson was just fined $30,000 on September 13 for hitting a defenseless player.
Obviously, the league was sending a stern message to repeat offenders, right?
The problem with that assertion is this. Meriweather is every bit the headhunter that Goldson is. As Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports, Meriweather was fined $50,000 for two helmet-to-helmet hits in 2010 and $45,000 over the span of two weeks in 2011.
Never mind that Meriweather knocked himself out of the game with Green Bay, suffering a concussion after another helmet-to-helmet hit.
So, why does Goldson get a one-game ban, while Meriweather gets fined $42,000?
If you can answer that question with a straight face, the league offices are hiring.
It isn't just the fines themselves that are often arbitrary. The way they are applied is just as bad.
Let's look at a pair of identical $42,000 fines levied after Week 2's AFC South showdown between the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans.
As John McClain of The Houston Chronicle reported, Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson was fined after being flagged for hitting a "defenseless" Kendall Wright:
Kareem Jackson fined $42 grand for hit on Kendall Wright. He's appealing.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) September 18, 2013
Safety Bernard Pollard was fined the same amount for his hit late in regulation on Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson. Pollard was not pleased by the league's decision:
So @nfl said I did "everything right" but 42k later I still get fined. Wow! It's called football but they want 2 hand touch. #TitanUp#— Bernard Pollard Jr (@Crushboy31) September 18, 2013
Pollard and Jackson each have prior offenses on their "record," but there's an important distinction between the two plays.
Jackson was penalized on the field. Pollard was not.
Far too often, what appears to be a legal hit at the time ends up drawing a fine from the league days later. That's how you end up with the travesty that was Chicago Bears linebacker Jon Bostic being fined $21,000 for this hit in the preseason:
Mind you, this is a hit that the NFL was celebrating the next day—on its official website:
The NFL called John Bostic's hit spectacular...then fined him $21K for it. http://t.co/UqxGik60Tq— CBSSports.com (@CBSSports) August 21, 2013
Roger Goodell's tenure as NFL commissioner has been littered with incidents like these. Rather than giving the appearance that the NFL is really concerned with player safety, this arbitrary enforcement of the rules (many of which are incredibly confusing) regarding helmet-to-helmet contact and "defenseless" receivers robs the system of all credibility.
It's not enforcement. It's ham-fisted, selective punishment. And God help you if you have a reputation as being "dirty," like Suh.
It's not an irreparable situation, though. In fact, a couple of simple steps would go a long way toward establishing stability and fairness in the enforcement of fines.
Does the NFL need major changes to the system for fining players?
First, if there's no flag, there's no fine. Yes, that means that a few shady plays will slip through the cracks.
However, the idea that "[d]iscipline is not based solely on situations where game officials call fouls. In some cases a violation may be detected in postgame review of video," per the commissioner's 2011 press release on player safety, has to go.
The players and officials are making split-second decisions at full speed on the playing field. The league then second-guessing those decisions days later, with the benefit of 137 high-definition slow-motion camera angles, is ridiculous.
Second, just follow the fine schedule. If a player was fined $20,000 last time, he gets $40,000 the next time. No more $60,000 disparities in fine amounts because Goodell ran out of Splenda for his corn flakes that morning.
Suspensions should be reserved either for the most egregious of acts:
Or, only levied once a player's fine amount hits a magic number. Say $100,000 for argument's sake, which would be at least a player's third offense in almost every case.
Is that system perfect? No, but no system is.
What it is, however, is fair and impartial. It punishes the offense, not the person.
And that makes it significantly better than the nonsense the NFL has now.
That may be an overly simplistic view, but have no fear.
Once the attorneys get involved, it will become ridiculously complicated in no time.