NFL Insider: The Effect of Fines on Plays in the NFL

Bryan DietzlerSenior Analyst IDecember 17, 2010

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 05:  Wide receiver Derrick Mason #85 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackled by safety Ryan Clark #25 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter of the game at M&T Bank Stadium on December 5, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. Pittsburgh won 13-10.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
Geoff Burke/Getty Images

This season has been dedicated to the protection of those that cannot defend themselves.  The NFL has been cracking down on what it calls vicious hits. However, the damage that these hits are causing does not outweigh the damage that the NFL is doing with its fines.  

The league has rules that outline what is considered to be an illegal hit.  They call for players to not lead with their head into a ball carrier.  They also ask that a player does not attempt to tackle a player around or in the area of his head.  Hard hits are discouraged and are dealt with using a very loose system of fines that are designed to deter players from hitting players in an improper manner.

But, is this system fair?  Does it discriminate against those players that are known to be hard hitters?  Does it target hits that are considered normal in the course of a football game?  

Over the past few weeks, we have seen several players get fined for hits on opposing players. Those players include Ndamukong Suh (fined $15,000 for an illegal hit), Brandon Merriweather (fined $75,000 for an illegal hit) and James Harrison (fined $20,000 for a late hit on Drew Brees, fined $75,000 for a helmet to helmet hit on Mohamed Massaquoi and fined $5,000 for a hit on Vince Young).  

There have been other fines, but these stick out the most to a lot of NFL fans and media members, since the fines that started it all are puzzling.  

Let’s take a closer look at the fine that Suh got for his illegal hit on Chicago Bear’s quarterback Jay Cutler.  The hit on that play looks much worse if you watch it in regular time, then if you do in slow motion.  The play was flagged as a penalty and, on the field in regular time, it looked like a penalty and the officials cannot go back and review things like that.

However, the NFL, when handing out fines, has all the tools at their disposal necessary to make a fair and accurate judgment.  Had they watched that play in slow motion (which I am sure they did) they would have seen that the hit was not worthy of a fine.  Suh had been fined before as well, this time for a roughing the passer penalty that he was flagged for in the preseason (Suh was fined $7,500).  

After that, he was “labeled” as a dirty player and was heavily scrutinized when playing.  Perhaps, it finally came to a head with the hit on Cutler or, because he had been labeled as a problem player, the officials were much more ready to call the penalty.  If that is the case, then it’s unfair to Suh.

Harrison has clearly been labeled a dirty player and he’s been under scrutiny by referees and NFL officials, since he was first fined for his hit on Massaquoi.  Harrison has always been known as a hard hitter and an aggressive player and that has been what has given him success in the past.  Why pick on someone that likes to play the game like he does?  It’s unfair to Harrison and to other players like Suh.  

If the NFL wants to fine players for hits, they need to be much more detailed in what they feel is an illegal hit.  They need to spell it out clearly, instead of making up the rules as they go along, because players don’t know what’s illegal and what isn’t.  And when the fines start adding up like they have with Harrison, you start to wonder just what is fair.  

Hopefully, the NFL will concentrate on outlining what an illegal hit is during this offseason and educate the players on what is right and what is wrong.  They will also need to spend some time educating the officials in the NFL on how to properly call penalties that are related to aggressive and illegal hits.

Granted, the NFL didn’t have a lot of time to do much education this year, but over the offseason, they need to get everyone straight on what is right and what is wrong. This will prevent confusion and that it’s fair for everyone on the field.