OK quarterbacks, the NFL has done literally everything to protect you guys for the past couple of decades, but eventually, you're going to have to protect yourselves.
Fans didn't pay to watch Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden and Buffalo Bills quarterback Jeff Tuel square off in Week 5. That's what they got, however, as both teams' starting quarterbacks—Brian Hoyer and EJ Manuel, respectively—were hurt in game action.
Somewhere, commissioner Roger Goodell read that sentence and immediately started asking around to see who he could fine.
Our very own Aaron Nagler wrote the following in response to the NFL's "protect and serve fines" system:
The problem, of course, is that the NFL has responded to this stardom by going to absurd levels to protect the faces of the league that are beamed into millions and millions of homes each weekend. It's so bad that, at this point, a defensive player could be forgiven for getting to the quarterback and asking him for his autograph rather than pummeling him.
Look, I'm a big advocate of player safety. It's not often that you'll see me complaining about 15-yard penalties or player fines. Frankly, that's not what this is about. The NFL sees activities it's trying to curb—some legitimate, some less so—and is trying to affect that change through more stick than carrot. I get it, even if it's not a perfect system.
The problem, however, is quarterbacks who waste the protection the NFL has given them by needlessly and idiotically putting themselves in harm's way.
Two words: Get down!
While speaking to Minnesota Vikings great Fran Tarkenton, he told me the following about mobile quarterbacks:
I didn't take a lot of big hits. I made sure I didn't put myself in a vulnerable position. I didn't try to run over people. I protected myself. [Former Dallas Cowboys QB Roger] Staubach protected himself...You have to figure out in this game how to stay healthy.
Now, Tarkenton was talking specifically about Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III there, but his maxim extends to any quarterback—especially mobile ones. The NFL can roll out as many fines or rule changes as they want, but quarterbacks who put themselves in harm's way are going to get hurt more often than not.
Rather than sending FedEx packages every Monday, NFL discipline czar Merton Hanks should channel his inner Jerry McGuire and start calling quarterbacks—"Help me, help you!"
Hoyer's injury was on a slide. He was trying to get down, kind of...not well. This is becoming pandemic in the NFL these days. No quarterback can slide any more. It's almost as if the current crop of quarterbacks grew up in a generation where parents stopped encouraging their kids to play multiple sports, and none of these guys played baseball.
Someone could make a lot of money teaching QBs when to run out of bounds and how to slide. Jeez!— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) October 4, 2013
It's not just a technical inability to slide that is hurting quarterbacks, however. There's also less of a desire to give one's self up. Think back to a time when all-time great quarterbacks like Dan Marino and Troy Aikman were roaming the fields of the NFL. These guys didn't throw themselves into traffic.
Even John Elway, known for helicoptering his way into history, didn't do that every day—he saved it for the moments where it was needed the most. Think back to what Tarkenton said. It's possible to be a quarterback on the run and a quarterback who is smart. These aren't mutually exclusive.
What's standing in the way, of course, is the very same mentality that got many of the guys to the NFL in the first place. The Nike mentality of always giving that little extra. Giving your all? Why not 110 percent? Already at 110? The guy next to you just turned his intensity up to 11; what's wrong with you?
In a very positive way, that A-type personality is what got almost all the quarterbacks in the NFL to the NFL. It's what drove them to do that little extra—waking up early, studying their playbooks late, extra reps in the weight room, etc. On the field, it's what keeps them going when the chips are down.
Yet the correlative of that is the natural response to any roadblock in these players' way. If these guys have always been the biggest, fastest, strongest or just all of the above on whatever field they've been on, why not try to run that safety over?
Well, because this happens, Mr. Manuel.
E.J. Manuel looks like he'll be fine. Next time, pick up first down, get out of bounds, son.— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) October 4, 2013
Put yourself in the shoes of an elite quarterback just for a moment. Ask yourself: What's more important, the extra yard when you've already gotten past the sticks? Or are the more important yards all the yards that you could rack up in seven days when you're not sitting out with injury?
He's not a quarterback, but I got a firsthand look at this mentality when I covered running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. For the first couple of seasons, Peterson would be asked each week about his running style. He'd had problems with nagging injuries and the media wouldn't let him forget.
I ribbed Peterson once about a play in which he tried to run over a safety rather than run out of bounds in garbage time. Peterson had just told a collection of reporters the week before that he was working on running out of bounds more often. He shrugged his shoulders and told me that it's easy to want to play one way off the field, but once the game starts, it's a lot more difficult to make one's body follow through.
In a nutshell, that's as much of a danger for today's quarterbacks as Donte Hitner, or even Ndamukong Suh. The league is committed, 100 percent to protecting its biggest stars from any undue injury. The NFL can't protect those same quarterbacks from themselves, however, and these players need to focus on protecting themselves.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.