Deebo Preemptively Calls Out NFL on New Rule

There may be no football on the horizon, but the league has been busy little beavers when it comes to protecting the players it has currently locked out. Yesterday, NFL vice president Adolpho Birch (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up) said the league will punish teams next season if their players have “malice in their heart” (my words, borrowed from Mike Carey, who uttered the phrase in reference to Terrell Suggs).

Specifically: “As a club’s total increases to a certain threshold, we will enforce some … payback to encourage clubs to stay below that threshold,” Birch said. “We’re looking at a system similar to one we instituted a couple years ago with off-field conduct.”

No details are offered, which isn’t a surprise since the NFL seems to pride itself on arbitrarily meting out punishments that don’t correlate with reducing violations. According to ESPN, Birch wouldn’t say which teams from 2010 would have been fined under the new rule had it been in place at the time but it’s not much of a stretch to assume the Steelers would have been front and center. James Harrison was fined $100,000 for playing football, only to have $25,000 refunded months later. Here’s what I wrote in January:

So the league saw fit to return $25,000 to Deebo because … well, I have no idea. Something about Ted Cottrell, former coach-turned-NFL-stooge deciding that Harrison deserved a refund. Meanwhile, Deebo’s hit on McCoy had everything to do with Madison’s subsequent pick, and I look forward to the league issuing a statement later this week explaining why the rescinding the $25,000 refund, presumably because Harrison had malice in his heart, or some such stupidity.

(Hey, another “malice in his heart” reference! I’m nothing if not predictable.)

Anyway: “We’ll check the number of fines and the level of fines going out for infractions that relate to various player safety violations,” Birch said. “Particularly head and helmet issues.”

Deebo, as you might expect, was not amused. Using his Twitter Machine to battle evil, Harrison offered this frank assessment Tuesday:

“I’m absolutely sure now after this last rule change that the people making the rules at the NFL are idiots.”

Just in case that wasn’t already plain as day.

Looking at the bigger picture, this new rule is way down on the list of things to get lathered up about. First, how about we resolve the labor dispute, and then we can climb up on our soapboxes to bemoan how the Man is keeping us down.

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  • Bill Pintsak

    Again the NFL is going to fine ‘intent’ and expect that men going at full speed are supposed to stop in mid-flight.  @ix4kid:twitter brought up a good point on the call with @nflcommish:twitter when he asked how it was fair that the NFL ‘slows down’ the video tape to fine a player that was going full speed and had little or no time to react in any other way.

    That said…as long as players are thinking and not reacting – more will get hurt – it’s that simple.  #56 commented on Twitter today that there are no new rules in place to protect the DL or LB’s when they get chop blocked….

  • Anonymous

    As a lawyer this whole “intent” thing is interesting to me.  Under the law intent has a very particular meaning that is (often) difficult to prove.  For example, in the law a person can behave intentionally, recklessly, carelessly, or negligently to name a few.  So does the League plan on creating these distinctions?  I guess the answer will probably be that “intent” will mean whatever the heck Roger and his band of goons happen to say it does on any given day.

  • ROb D

    Think they will start taking players out at the knees? Where the heck else can you hit them now?

    And I love the new one where you have to wait for the defenseless WR to make a football move after catching the ball before you can hit..errr..touch slap him I guess. Is this the Wes Welker rule and will he now surpass Jerry Rice by catching a million 3 yard passes?

    I can well imagine the flag fest some games are going to turn into. and the final will be 77-63,

    O wait..there’s not going to be a season? Never mind. lol…

    • Anonymous

      Well my only problem with the “The NFL is just trying to address the concussion problem” argument is that I don’t really buy it.  Then why don’t they mandate players wear helmets that are proven to reduce concussions?  Gregg Easterbrook on TMQ has been pointing out this hypocrisy and I believe the reining DWTS (champ did as well.

      The only reason the League is doing anything is because they started getting some really negative press on the concussion issue and they needed to do damage control PR.

      I will admit my view on the League and Roger is quite cynical, but I would argue justifiably so.

      • GlennW

        I don’t see that it much matters if the league’s response is proactive, reactive or even “hypocritical” (a much mis- or overused word regarding necessary changes of position or opinion), because the concussion problem isn’t going to go away (or at least be minimized) without action on any number of fronts.  Hell, lots of problems (maybe most) are only ever addressed after the shit has hit the fan.  Again, such as after ex-players are killing themselves due to unbearable brain damage.
        To be more specific, I believe that this latest change in definition for a “defenseless” player only explicitly illegalizes a hit like Harrison’s on Massaquoi– basically a forearm or shoulder blow to the head immediately after the receiver has caught the ball (as opposed to the previous definition where the receiver has laid out for the ball but did not pull it in).  Just my opinion, but I don’t think the NFL will be ruined if such a violent hit to the head is eliminated.  Some players will have to make adjustments, and Harrison may be one of them– and this time it’s not in-season.  I don’t believe this is impossible or even exceedingly difficult.  (Ask yourself:  Why do some players frequently make high hits– say, Ryan Clark– when others at the same position don’t?– Troy Polamalu, who has lit up many a receiver or ballcarrier, but rarely to– or with– the helmet.  Maybe that’s half matter of learned style of play, and maybe half conscious intent.  Either way, plenty of defensive players– perhaps the majority– seem to be able to function by regularly targetting below the head and neck.  Make the adjustment.)

        • Anonymous

          You hit the point exactly. The thing being illegalized is a blow to the head immediately after the receiver has caught the ball. And that’s the problem. To defend a pass that has already been thrown, you can prevent the ball from reaching the target, or you can prevent the receiver from gaining possession of the ball. You can’t contact the receiver before it reaches him, that’s pass interference. So you have to contact him after he receives it. The probability of dislodging the ball decreases with distance from the point of catch. Slap away a guy’s hand and he’s not catching the ball. Take away his legs and he makes the catch and is immediately tackled. Hands are fast, and often on the other side of a player’s body. That means you’re aiming for shoulders. So chest, back, and unfortunately head, all of which are near shoulders, are going to get hit.

          The problem with the change is that it takes a reasonable and customary pass defense technique, and gives it a high chance of drawing a defensive foul. That’s going to make the game, which has already become too offensive and pass-happy even more so. If they implement this rule change they need to specify that if the receiver’s motion causes the helmet contact then the foul is on the offense not the defense, and give defenders a new tool – maybe remove the Mel Blount rule or allow defensive contact with the receiver a half second before the ball reaches him.

          • GlennW

            I’m all for burying the penalty flag if the receiver has ducked and the contact to the head is unavoidable (and yes, I understand that there will occasionally be bad calls around the interpretation of such– just add that to the long list of subjective penalty interpretations in the game).  Beyond that, I think you exaggerate the overall impact of such “defensiveless receiver” headshot penalties.  A given defense– even one as aggressive as the Steelers’– might deliver such a perfectly timed blow to a receiver’s head 3 or 4 times in an entire season, if that.  For those few plays a season, if the DB instead has to blast through the receiver’s torso and/or try to strip the ball away in the process, so be it.  It’s really not going to make much of a difference, except to the guy who doesn’t end up in the hospital.

            Hey, George Atkinson’s forearm shiver to the head of a defenseless receiver used to be permitted too, and the rule change prohibiting it also favored the offense.  The game evolves, and the supposed dominance of offenses is overstated anyway.  (Passing is up over the past decade, but actual scoring is hardly ridiculous.  If the NFL had never changed its passing rules from those of the 1970s and later, we’d regularly be seeing 9-7 games due to defensive specialization and evolution.)

  • GlennW

    Is the “defenseless player” distinction only with regard to head-and-neck contact?  This is my understanding, and if so I think it’s only a minor change to the existing rule, and a fair one.

    Regardless James Harrison needs to tone it down (say, at least to the level of Woodley’s more general comments on defensive play)– Harrison is the person who continues to sound like an “idiot”.  I didn’t like it when the NFL effectively changed the rules in the middle of a season, but the writing is on the wall with regard to the concussion issue, and that’s what these rules clarifications/changes are all about.  Now, if in practice the league starts penalizing and fining all/most incidental helmet contact– which the NFL says it’s not, the contact is supposed to be intentional and “forcible”– we’ll all have a gripe.  But beyond that, the NFL correctly realizes that it has a potentially devastating problem on its hands with multiple ex-players descending into dementia or outright killing themselves every year.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    I think it is much better to do rule change in the off-season than on the fly like last year.  And if there were ways of genuinely improving player safety, I’d be for it.  But the list of clauses and situations makes it confusing seemingly difficult to remember during a game.

    My larger issue is that the game is inherently violent and the hits the league is targeting are only a small fraction of what causes long term brain and body damage.  How many times was Mike Webster or John Hannah or Ted Johnson involved in such plays?  My guess is close to zero, but each ended up with significant brain or body damage.

    Where the hypocrisy comes in is claiming that this is all for player safety while trying to expand the regular season by two games.  Adding 12.5% of danger while outlawing what I’d guess is about 1% of the danger seems disingenuous at best.

    • Anonymous

      There’s nothing hypocritical about trying to increase player safety and also trying to lengthen the season. Increasing safety is one goal the NFL has. But it is not the only goal. If it were the only goal they would have to cancel the sport altogether. The NFL still has public entertainment as a major goal. If they see safety in terms of injuries per unit entertainment (a reasonable point of view), and believe that  1.125 times the games yields 1.125 times the injuries and 1.125 times the entertainment, then 18 games vs 16 games is a wash.

    • GlennW

      Yes, the accumulated concussions are where research into improved helmets and equipment might come into play.  Still, it seems to me that attempting to eliminate *unnecessary* hits where a player is outright knocked cold (or has his jaw or neck broken etc.) is an obvious start.

      As for the 18-game schedule, a couple of us disputed Ryan’s “hypocrisy” argument around player safety when we discussed this some months back.  The 18-game schedule proposal boiled down to the players’ choice between the 16-game status quo versus two additional games for *more pay* (i,e. the players’ designated cut of national TV revenues increased by ~10%).  The 18-game schedule undoubtedly would shorten some careers in terms of seasons played, but not necessarily number of games played and career earnings (actually I suspect on average that career games played and earnings would increase, as year-to-year aging and replacement by younger players are factors that are present independent of length of schedule).  Regardless, if a player’s career lasts exactly 100 games under a 16-game schedule or an 18-game schedule, his risk of suffering a debilitating injury or brain damage is no different with either format.

  • GlennW

    > The game evolves, and the supposed dominance of offenses is overstated anyway.  (Passing is up over the past decade, but actual scoring is hardly ridiculous.  If the NFL had never changed its passing rules from those of the 1970s and later, we’d regularly be seeing 9-7 games due to defensive specialization and evolution.)

    For my own edification I looked up the data behind this claim.  In 1977 (the year before the so-called “Mel Blount Rule” was enacted) team per-game scoring hit a post-WWII low of 17.2 points/game.  In 1992 and 1993 the NFL experienced another defensive dip to 18.7 points/game and made further adjustments (I remember this period in part from an SI cover story with a headline of something along the lines of ”Why is the NFL So Boring?”).  Today?  In 2010 scoring hit 22.0 points/game for the second time in the new century.  So, while scoring is up a bit from its cyclical lows, just remember that whenever you hear a defensive player say “they won’t let us play any more”, there’s a reason.  And that reason is that without the rules changes, the sport would have long ago ground to a slumber– say what you will about the joys of watching strong defensive play, but scoring of around 20-21 points/game preserves the balance that makes seeing a great defensive team special.  Given the way specialized platoon defenses now generally bottle up the run and prevent the big play with sideline-to-sideline speed, if DBs were still allowed to chuck receivers up and down the field, I quite literally have a hard time envisioning how offenses would score touchdowns at all.