Today, the NFL officially announced that it will start suspending players for what they feel are flagrant hits, effective immediately. After a weekend where we saw numerous concussions caused by hard and sometimes illegal hits, the NFL needed to find a way to prevent players from driving at other players with their heads. Brandon Meriweather of the New England Patriots was the worst offender of one of these hits this weekend. Meriweather drove his helmet straight into the helmet of Ravens’ tight end, Todd Heap, after the ball had already soared over Heap’s head and as another Patriot defender was already tackling him. Meriweather’s hit was clearly intentional and unnecessary. He was fined $50,000 by the league, but was not suspended. Falcons’ cornerback Dunta Robinson was also fined $50,000 by the league for his hit on Eagles’ receiver, DeSean Jackson, a hit that resulted in both Jackson and Robinson sustaining injuries. This hit did not look intentional at all and seemed like it was just a case of bad timing. James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was fined $75,000 by the league, knocked out two Browns players, Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi, on separate helmet-to-helmet hits. Neither of which were penalized in the game. I’m not so sure about the Massaquoi play, but the hit on Cribbs looked like Harrison fully intended on hitting his helmet into Cribb’s helmet. Again, this was not penalized.
This makes me raise the question, why were Harrison’s two hits, which were clearly helmet-to-helmet, not penalized, but Jets’ safety Jim Leonhard’s hit was. Leonhard clearly hit body to body and had no intent of doing anything but knocking the ball out of the receiver’s hands, or knocking the receiver out of bounds. Just some food for thought.
I can understand why the NFL is implementing this new rule. Obviously they want to protect players as best as they can. Just because I understand does not mean I agree. Football is a physical game and we are going to see every type of hit possible at some point or another. Helmet-to-helmet, chop blocks, helmet-to-chest, tripping, etc. These are going to happen, and it is part of the game. Let’s not forget that this rule is only going to be enforced on defensive players and blockers. Ball carriers can run full speed and do whatever they can to get more yardage; they can lower their shoulders, lower their heads, throw their bodies forward, and anything else you can think of. So what we get here is ball carriers running at full speed at a defender, and the defender is the one who has to avoid hitting the ball carrier as hard as he can, because he can get penalized, fined, and/or suspended if the hit is seen as “flagrant”. The real question is what the league will define as “flagrant”.
I hate to see the NFL getting soft, but this is the day we live in. Concussions are becoming more and more common in the NFL. Players are more aggressive and they are also getting bigger and bigger every year. Newly designed helmets may protect players better, but they also allow defenders to use their helmets to lay down harder hits. I would not doubt that we see more knee and leg injuries because of this new rule. Players will want to avoid going after helmets, so they’ll go for the legs. Concussions rarely end a player’s season, let alone a career, but we have seen numerous leg and knee injuries end players’ seasons and sometimes their careers. Starting in week 7, we will see a new era in tackling. I, for one, am not excited about it. National Flag Football League anyone?