It was only a matter of time, after New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's season was ended by a low hit by Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward in Week 14, before the clamoring began to outlaw such hits in the NFL.
At the rate things are going, there aren't going to be any hits left.
It wasn't long after Gronkowski went down that another tight end whose 2013 ended in a similar fashion was one of the first to call for the league to change the rules regarding hitting players low.
Praying for @RobGronkowski and a speedy recovery and a MAJOR comeback..something has to be done about these low hits!!!— Dustin Keller (@DUSTINKELLER81) December 9, 2013
Mind you, it's already a 15-yard penalty to hit quarterbacks low, a rule passed a few years ago after Tom Brady was injured on a low hit by then-Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard.
Sure enough, the NFL Network's Albert Breer reports that the league will examine the issue in the offseason:
The competition committee has looked at adding rules protecting defenseless receivers from low hits, and will work thru ideas at the combine— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) December 11, 2013
Before we go any further and the comments begin accusing me of being a bloodthirsty barbarian, no one wants to see a play like what happened Sunday in New England, or in the preseason in Miami.
With that said, though, one of the reasons Ward went low was that he's running out of places to go:
Browns safety T.J. Ward says he had to hit Rob Gronkowski low: "If I would've hit him up high, there's a chance I was going to get a fine."— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 10, 2013
With the NFL cracking down on both helmet-to-helmet contact and striking a "defenseless" receiver, going high is going to draw either a flag, a fine or both. Do it more than once and the fines can get really steep really quickly. Multiple suspensions have been levied this year alone.
And that's fine, especially in an era when it seems each passing month brings more sobering news about the long-term effects of repeated head trauma.
However, if you can't hit them high, or low, or when they aren't looking, or without a notarized note expressly giving you permission (one of those might be made up), then where exactly are you supposed to tackle a guy?
Well, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (who also suffered a knee injury this year) has an idea—"The Tackle Zone."
With all due respect to Cobb, a "tackle zone" sounds very much like the idea of someone who makes his living being tackled and not doing the tackling.
Asking a 5'10", 200-pound safety to bring down a 6'6", 265-pound tight end by hitting him in a specific area between the "upper thigh" (so essentially his waist) and the shoulders is like asking a cheetah to bring down an elephant.
There's a reason why you don't see that happen on Animal Planet...physics.
Granted, Breer did stipulate that the league would likely look at a rule that wasn't all-encompassing:
BUT proposals are more likely to be more centered on hits like Dustin Keller took -- while in the act of catching -- than the one Gronk took— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) December 11, 2013
Of course, the issue there is said rule will be enforced by human beings, and we've already seen wild variance from officiating crew to officiating crew where defenseless receivers and helmet-to-helmet shots are concerned.
There will be more fines, but will we really see fewer low hits?
Should low hits be banned in the NFL?
The NFL can legislate until the end of time, but players are still going to get hurt playing football. Wildly athletic 250-pound men crashing into one another at high speed while wearing suits or armor is an inherently dangerous act.
It doesn't matter. Make no mistake, if a rule change wasn't already in the works after Keller was hit, it certainly will be after the face of the position in the NFL went down.
When Carson Palmer had his knee blown out by a low hit in 2005, nothing changed. When the Golden Boy himself was felled, low hits on signal-callers were forbidden PDQ.
And so low hits will join high hits, helmet hits, just about any hit at all on a quarterback, crackbacks and Cracker Jack as things that will not be tolerated on the field in the NFL.
And as defenders are left with one fewer option to play the hollowed-out shell that is "defense" in the NFL today, the game they're playing will get just a little less like football.