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The NFL Debates How Badly Players Can Be Jacked Up by Lloyd Vance

 

After Week 6’s headshot fest, if some people around the NFL have their way… ‘Jacked Up’ hits, like this one delivered by former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins on TE Alge Crumpler in the 2004 NFC Championship Game, may soon draw more than a fine

After a weekend where the National Football League saw an unprecedented number of head injuries, i.e. Concussions , caused by some extremely hard hits. The entire league including officials, players, media and fans were talking about what to do to protect players better from devastating hits. 

The four biggest collision hits that were deemed “flag worthy” by the league — or as ESPN used to glorify, where guys getting “Jacked Up”.  Were Falcons DB Dunta Robinson knocking himself and Philadelphia Eagle WR DeSean Jackson out on a bang-bang play; Steelers LB James Harrison knocking out Cleveland Browns WR/RB Joshua Cribbs on a running play and on another play sending WR Mohamed Massaquoi to the sidelines for a good bit after a head shot; and New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather’s blatant helmet-to-helmet big shot on Baltimore Ravens TE Todd Heap.

Concussions, which have been the NFL’s biggest hot button topic – especially after congress got involved last year – were plentiful in Week 6.  Players Jackson, Robinson, Cribbs, Jaguars QB David Garrard, and Redskins TE Chris Cooley all suffering the league’s most dreaded injury.  So now the league in “protecting” the shield is talking tough about big hits. The cases of Massaquoi, Heap, and Jackson drew the most ire as at least two of them involved helmet-to-helmet contact to “defenseless” receivers, which is a big no-no since the NFL beefed up the defenseless receiver rule before the 2009 season.  The rule — which some say was in response to 2008 “flagged” hits on WR’s Wes Welker and Anquan Boldin” — states that a defender must have two feet on the ground before contact to the head. 

Almost before Sunday’s 1 PM and 4 PM EST games were completed varying shots were fired from both sides of the “devastating” hit debate.  Immediately I was receiving emails and texts saying, “Put flags on these guys, because football is too soft” or on the other side, “Football is becoming too violent and the league needs to step in”.  The situation got so bad that NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson, i.e. “The Fine Man” had to go on the offensive. 

On the “Mike and Mike” Show on ESPN Radio, Anderson said, “We need to get our players firmly in line with the current rules”.  He added when talking about defenseless players, “What we’re trying to make sure our players understand is that you should know the rules.  The coaches know the rules, the players should know the rules. And so if you are in violations of the rules — particularly one of those trying to protect against head, neck injuries — we’re going to hold you to a higher standard.”  However lastly Anderson said there is no intent to change any rules. “We are just going to enforce the existing rules much more to the letter of the law so we can protect our players”.

“We understand this is not just about the NFL,” Anderson said. “This is about safety at our level, at the college level, at the high school level, at the pee-wee level, because we are the standard bearer and we are committed to safety at the highest level.  “So we will take all the criticism and all the backlash against those that say we are acting too aggressively in this regard. We are not going to be apologetic. We are not going to be defensive about it. We are going to protect our players and hopefully players at the lower levels as well by example.”

Trust me as someone that has gotten to know a lot of current and former players over the years, I am all about “Player Safety” and trying to preserve football players’ health long-term.  However I think many members of the media and fans are being too over reactive  in regards to big hits.  Yes, there were players laid out everywhere in Week 6, but too often these types of bone-crunching hits are too hard to evaluate in live action to call them “dirty”.  You cannot blame a defender for trying to make a play in a split second especially when separating a receiver from the ball. 

In the game that I was paying particular attention to, the Eagles-Falcons, I clearly thought that Robinson was not intentionally trying to knockout Jackson.  He led with his shoulder pads and it was a quick bang-bang play where the former Pro Bowl corner could not stop his forward motion.  Unfortunately both players laid on the ground for some time before they were helped off and neither did not return.  As outrage filled the Philadelphia area and Robinson was being painted as a “dirty” player, I thought it was ridiculous given the speed of the play.  I even had to chastise one hypocritical Eagles’ fan who I had to remind that he was the same guy who celebrated former Eagles corner Sheldon Brown’s big hit that “Jacked Up” Saints running back Reggie Bush in the 2006 NFL Playoffs.

Fox contributor and former head of officials Mike Pereira said in explaining the Robinson-Jackson hit,   “Jackson is considered defenseless as the pass was incomplete, and as a defender, Robinson is not allowed to lower his head and contact Jackson anywhere on his body. I’m not sure what you tell a defender to do in that situation, but we have to avoid these types of hits that create the injuries that result from them”. Pereira closed the topic by saying, “The NFL will continue to look at these types of actions to try to eliminate these injuries. Robinson and others are going to have to lead with their shoulders and not their heads.”

Giving the officials the leeway to suspend/eject players for big hits is going to open a firestorm of “subjective” calls.  The NFL needs to relax as big non-helmet-to-helmet hits occur on almost every play and they have been part of the fabric of football since the game was created in the late 19th century.  I can still remember talking to former Falcons veteran safety Lawyer Milloy after the Falcons-Eagles game in October 2008 where he had been flagged for a hard hit on a “defenseless” TE LJ Smith on a bang-bang play.   Milloy was flagged 15-yards for unnecessary roughness  on a big hit over the middle where he used his shoulders mostly to knock the ball away from Smith.  Milloy said, “It happened so fast that I couldn’t stop my momentum and I was just playing the game hard”.   The former University of Washington hitter was not fined by the NFL for the hit, but it showed the “skewed” nature of officials calling penalties for big hits.

However the one hit from Week 6 that everyone can agree on as excessive and cannot be tolerated was Meriweather’s hit on Heap.  Anderson said of the blatantly late helmet-to-helmet hit that landed the former University of Miami star in Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse (i.e. the bench for a few plays), “That in our view is something that was flagrant, it was egregious.”  Anderson added, “And effective immediately, that’s going to be looked at a very aggressive level, which could include suspension without pay.”  Anderson also made it a specific point to accentuate the fact that game officials have the authority to eject players in those situations, if warranted.

So after a 24-hour firestorm of sports talk, the NFL came out strong with $175K worth of fines in hopes of changing player’s minds. James Harrison was fined $75K for his two hits on Browns’ players – already had been under the league’s microscope for body-slamming Titans QB Vince Young in Week 2; Plus Meriweather and Robinson received $50K fines for their infractions.  In addition, the NFL when presenting the fines also planted the seed of possible ejections/suspensions for big hits.  Greg Aiello, the NFL senior vice president of public relations said, “Fair warning needed to be given to players and clubs before increased discipline starts to include game suspensions.  A communication will go to the clubs, coaches, and players tomorrow about the increased discipline for violations of player safety rules.”

We will see if the ejection/suspension threats are merely tough talk and can change the way the game is played.  As NFL players have still played with a hard-hitting style for decades despite fines.  Former New England Patriots thumper turned NBC Football Analyst Rodney Harrison, who received more than $200,000 in fines in his career, gave a great story about the fines he accumulated for his hard-hitting style.  He said, “I used to set aside $50,000 before the start of each season to pay fines for big hits”.   That quote shows that Harrison and the rest of the NFL’s hard-hitters know exactly how much their tough-hitting style was going to cost them in playing to win and they are okay with it.  Some are saying that Harrison didn’t learn his lesson until he was finally suspended for 1-game in 2002 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Jerry Rice.  I guess not being able to be on the field to help his team win was the final impetus to make Harrison change his hitting style to stay on the field.  And ejection/suspension may indeed be what it takes to reel-in today’s hard hitters.

Call me crazy, but I do believe in the NFL’s 91 years of existence that “Devastating Hits” have always been celebrated.  I can still remember reveling in the Eagles’ late ‘80s/early ‘90s safety combo of Andre Waters and Wes Hopkins laying receivers out.  Remember Hopkins setting the tone in the infamous “House of Pain” game on December 7, 1991 in the Houston Astrodome where he laid out Ernest Givens and later received a $7500 fine for the hit… but I digress.  Some of the biggest names in professional football’s history including HOFer’s Deacon Jones, Butkus, Lott, Blount, Larry Wilson, Night Train Lane, and others, were celebrated for being fierce intimidating hitters.  These guys had  the ability to knock a guy into next week and everyone loved it – the NFL Films even used produce videos call “Crunch Course” that were hugely popular. 

You can call me a “Narcissist” all you want…but almost all contact sports fans love the brute force of the pros and are drawn to it .   Remember how quickly a circle would form and sides would be taken on the playground when someone yelled, “Fight, Fight”.   Like it or not… people like the big hits of the NFL — just like the Ancient Rome’s Gladiators, NHL Fights, WWE, MMA, Boxing, etc.  “Player Safety” aside, we all love to watch the tough guys of the NFL, because these guys have the “guts” to play in the hit or be hit world of the greatest league on Earth.  

Hopefully the league will try not to impose themselves too much into the equation and NFL football can remain the hard-hitting game that we all love.  When I talked to former 9-year NFL veteran safety Robert Massey about the whole NFL cracking down on big hits situation he said that understood “player safety”.  But Massey added, “Hitting is a big part of the gameYou don’t want to take away the ‘Beauty of the Game’ which is hitting and intimidation”.   What I believe Massey was saying was that hard hits are part of the gamesmanship of the NFL and the brotherhood of players understand that risk.

I am not even sure if fines and penalties are going to deter devastating hits in the NFL.  To the dismay of Pereira, the NFL’s former hot button penalty (horse-collar tackles) increased during the 2008 season even after the league place an emphasis on them — 24 horse-collar tackles called in ’08 as opposed to 12 in ’07.  We will have to wait to see if “Devastating Hits” will fall by the wayside.  Like past NFL big stories ‘SpyGate’ and the Wildcat, but for now get used to everyone talking about the league legislating big hits on “defenseless” players.

You know the NFL is going to be vigilant or is it “reactive” in making sure that players are safe, especially the “Golden Boys” (Quarterbacks and Receivers).  So as former Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan used to say, “They should just put flags on offensive players and get it over with”. 

But c’mon let the defensive guys play hard too! Can anyone please tell me if the same kind of uproar would have been heard if a couple defensive lineman were lost to chop blocks and zone blocking knee-diving schemes…you already know the answer.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

“NFL looks like the league that cried wolf by not suspending a player after being so aggrieved about it.”  – Peter King on Twitter

“Henceforth, unless a Merriweather-type hit earns you a week off, NFL will be guilty of talking big but not following through with action” – Don Banks on Twitter

Sports Ilustrated’s Top 10 biggest hitters from a couple of years ago http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/0707/top10.hitters.today.nfl/content.1.html

Checkout some of these YouTube NFL Big Hits including some from when the league “promoted” crunching shots

NFL Crunch Course – part 1 of 5 — www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOBOxxxKNXQ

Sheldon Brown Jacked Up Steven Jackson — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3c5jwoWPRpI&feature=related

Brian Dawkins: BIG HITS!!!! — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suYFi8zW6pE&feature=fvst

DAWKINS kills Crumpler — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5ApFRBpdf8

NFL’s Most Bone Crushing Hits — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXLOHF71L_c&feature=related

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2010 NFL Pre-Training Camp Top Stories – Player Misconduct by Lloyd Vance

Leading up to 2010 NFL Training Camps there have been too many stories of player misconduct.  Recently Green Bay Packers DL Johnny Jolly (pictured) was suspended for the season by the league for drug charges

Hard to believe 3 years after NFL Commissioner Roger “Hang’em High” Goodell instituted a Player Conduct policy that gave him much latitude in its application, we are still talking about players putting themselves in bad situations.  Sure the majority of the NFL’s over 1500 players are good up-standing types, but since the Super Bowl ended in February there has been a steady stream of player misconduct that has fans, media, and league officials concerned about a pattern. 

And to make matters worse, now the players involved seem to be more “high profile”.  No longer is everyone talking about the misdeeds of a 2nd string nickelback (i.e. Adam “Pacman” Jones), now quarterbacks who are the league and franchise’s faces are producing negative front-page news too, that may have implications going into the 2010 NFL season. 

Philadelphia Eagles backup QB Michael Vick (a shooting occurring after his 30th B-Day Party), Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (Bar hopping gone array in Milledgeville, GA), Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young (misdemeanor assault citation after allegedly punching a guy in a strip club for an upside down hook’em Horns sign), Tennessee Titans back-up QB Chris Simms (arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of marijuana in New York City), former Oakland Raiders QB / 2008 NFL Draft first overall pick JaMarcus Russell (arrested for illegal possession of Codeine to allegedly produce a drink called “The Sizzurp”) and too many others. 

The situation that Roethlisberger got himself into was most distressing to Goodell and everyone else as he is the marquee player of one of the NFL’s cornerstone franchises.  Though eventually the authorities in Georgia decided to not press charges for sexual assault against Big Ben, the salacious details and accusations, including the showing of taped interviews with the alleged victim, will follow Roethlisberger, the Steelers and NFL for a long time. 

The former 2-time Super Bowl winning quarterback has been suspended for the first 6 games of the 2010 Season, but it is looking like his early summer good behavior could have his suspension lowered to 4 games instead.  However good behavior by Roethlisberger and the NFL’s other bad boys withstanding, it will be interesting in CBA negotiations if NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith wants to call Goodell and his sometimes heavy-handed administration of the Player Conduct Policy to task.  Because you know the league will counter with tales of how disorderly players have taken signing bonuses and other guaranteed money and not lived-up to their end of the bargain.

Hopefully now that training camps have begun (Cleveland Browns rookies reported on July 23rd) player misconduct will be tempered as fans and media should be looking forward to the action on the gridiron rather than NFL players on the police blotter.

2010 Player Misconduct Suspensions

  • Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, 6-game suspension (Player Conduct – two sexually related incidents) — Out until at least Week 8 vs. New Orleans, but could be shortened to 4-games based on league review
  • San Diego Chargers WR Vincent Jackson, 3-game suspension (Player Conduct – Multiple DUIs) — Out until Week 4 vs. Arizona
  • Atlanta Falcons OT Quinn Ojinnaka, 1-game suspension (Player Conduct – Domestic Violence) — Out until Week 2 vs. Arizona
  • Seattle Seahawks LB Leroy Hill, 1-game suspension (Player Conduct – Drug Charge) — Out until Week 2 at Denver (also their could be an additional suspension coming for Player Conduct – Domestic Violence)
  • Green Bay Packers DE Johnny Jolly, indefinite suspension with the minimum for all of the 2010 season (Player Conduct – Drug Charge)
  • Free Agent WR Plaxico Burress, indefinite suspension (gun charges) that will end once he is released from prison

*** It should also be noted that when a player serves a suspension, he does not get paid and misses out on game checks.

Other possible misconduct violations

  • Miami Dolphins DE Phillip Merling – Domestic Violence
  • Cleveland Browns DT Shaun Rodgers – Carrrying a weapon into the airport
  • Atlanta Falcons DT Jonathan Babineaux – Drug Chrages
  • Cincinnati Bengals RB Cedric Benson – Assault
  • Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young – Citation for Assault
  • Philadelphia Eagles backup QB Michael Vick — Possible probation violation from a shooting that occurred after his 30th B-Day Party
  • Tennessee Titans back-up QB Chris Simms — Arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of marijuana in New York City
  • Free Agent QB JaMarcus Russell – Drug Charges

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The Bengals to sign Pacman Jones by Lloyd Vance

It seems the Cincinnati Bengals have room for one more “maverick” as notorious NFL problem player Adam “Pacman” Jones will soon be joining the team

It used to be a running “joke” around NFL circles that the Oakland Raiders and their patriarch Al Davis were the “Statue of Liberty” for NFL reclamation projects — Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  In the past, Davis had been a master of picking-up cast-offs, usually players with “character” issues like former high motor pass rusher Lyle Alzado, and turning them into productive players on winning teams. 

Well anyone looking for the NFL’s new version of Father Flanagan’s Boys Town doesn’t have to look any further than the Cincinnati Bengals – noteworthy problem players on the team’s current roster include DE Frostee Rucker, WR Matt Jones, WR Antonio Bryant, WR Maurice Purify, DT Tank Johnson, DE Carlos Dunlap, and others.  However it seems that Bengals owner/GM Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis are willing to take-on another “rap-sheet” player. 

As multiple sources are reporting that Cincinnati is very near to signing free agent cornerback and notorious NFL Bad Boy Adam “Pacman” Jones — suspended in the past for the entire 2007 season and part of the 2008 season (player misconduct policy) for numerous run-ins with the law including a much-publicized strip club shooting in Las Vegas.

Jones must have looked better in his recent audition than an earlier tryout in February, where it was reported that he was grossly out of shape.  Pacman will be trying to return to the NFL for the first time since the end of the 2008.  During the 2008 season, the NFL had suspended the former 2005 first round pick (6th overall) from West Virginia again (4 games) after foolishness that included allegedly fighting a paid Cowboys’ security staff member in a hotel.

During his brief time with the Cowboys in 2008 — 9 games w/ 6 starts – Jones didn’t appear to still have the same burst and coverage skills that once made him an in-demand player despite his off-the-field problems.  So at age 26 and having missed almost two full years away from the field over the course of 5 years, that the 2009 AFC North champion Bengals are clearly Pacman’s last stop in the NFL. It will be interesting to see if the former Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys talented yet infamous corner can return to the dangerous player that he once was – in his second season for the Titans in 2006, he had 51 tackles, 12 pass deflections, 4 INTs – returned one for a touchdown — and 3 TD’s on punt returns.

I am figuring that the Bengals will use Jones in the nickel, dime, and on special teams as they already have talented corners Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph.  There are also rumors that the Bengals may try Pacman at free safety in competition with 2010 third-round pick Brandon Ghee and holdovers Tom Nelson and Chinedum Ndukwe (currently in the team’s doghouse) .  For his career, Jones’ numbers are 146 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 sack, over 2000 return yards and 4 TDs in 39 games played.

If the Bengals do sign Jones, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer – took Cincinnati’s defensive ranking from 21st to 4th in just one year – will be his new best and worst friend.  Zimmer, who has been in contact with former player Deion Sanders (Pacman’s friend), has made it abundantly clear that Jones is not coming in to start and that he will need to play with more discipline than he has shown in his career.

Though the Bengals have given second chances to multiple players, like the late Chris Henry, team chemistry is everything to Zimmer, Lewis, and Brown.  Zimmer recently said of the potential Pacman signing, “If we sign him…I’ll be on him at all times.”

So with Adam “Pacman” Jones soon to be entering the fold, I am wondering if the Bengals have any room left in their wacky locker-room for malcontent receiver Terrell “T.O” Owens, who is having trouble finding a job this offseason.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The NFL Suspends Roethlisberger for Six Games by Lloyd Vance

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger received a 6-game suspension from the NFL for conduct detrimental to the league

After less than one week of thinking it over, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided it was time to give his decision regarding any suspension of troubled Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  Goodell informed the Steelers and Roethlisberger that the star quarterback would be suspended for the first six games to start the 2010 NFL Season without pay for conduct detrimental to the NFL in violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. A six-game suspension would cost Big Ben $2.841M in base salary or $473,529 per game.

Much like when Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was suspended to start the 2009 season, Roethlisberger’s suspension can be shortened — to 4 games — if he meets certain terms set forth by the NFL and the Steelers.  First and foremost, the league wants Big Ben to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation by medical professionals then he must also hit others parameters set worth by the NFL and Steelers to even be considered for his suspension to be reviewed.

One of the biggest caveats that Goodell also placed on Roethlisberger is that Steelers’ star will not be able to attend any team off-season activity until he has completed the medical evaluation. The Commission said the rehabilitation of Big Ben was a two-step approach designed to hold him, “accountable for his conduct and provide him an opportunity to change his behavior and establish himself as a responsible individual.”

I think after reading the Milledgeville 572-page investigative report, that Goodell and the Rooney Family were disgusted and had no other choice than to “justifiably” put Roethlisberger on the self for what appears to be habitual behavior.  In his letter to Roethlisberger, Goodell wrote “The personal conduct policy makes clear that I may impose discipline ‘even where the conduct does not result in conviction of a crime’ as, for example, where the conduct ‘imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person’.

The understandably heated Goodell wrote further, “As the District Attorney concluded, the extensive investigatory record shows that you contributed to the irresponsible consumption of alcohol by purchasing (or facilitating the purchase of) alcoholic beverages for underage college students, at least some of whom were likely already intoxicated. There is no question that the excessive consumption of alcohol that evening put the students and yourself at risk. The personal-conduct policy also states that discipline is appropriate for conduct that ‘undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.’ By any measure, your conduct satisfies that standard.”

Goodell closed his letter to Roethlisberger by writing, “Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare…In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track.”

I fully support Goodell’s and the Steelers’ decision as Pittsburgh is one of the NFL’s cornerstone franchises and a large majority of their fanbase is angered by the actions of one of the stars from their two recent Super Bowl winning squads.  Much like Vick’s case, Goodell will personally be involved in the review of Roethlisberger’s progress. 

I really like the approach that Goodell and the Steelers took in Roethlisberger’s situation.  In the past the Commissioner set precedents with players like Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, and Michael Vick via the player misconduct policy, so he had to come down hard on Roethlisberger and he did.  Fortunately for Roethlisberger, the punishment comes without any charges from the legal community, but it is time for him to heed the words of the Georgia D.A that told him to “Grow Up”.

So where does everyone go from here.  Well… the Steelers are “listening” to offers for Big Ben going into the draft and they have also signed veteran Byron Leftwich through 2011.  Clearly there will need some fence-mending from Roethlisberger with the team and I believe the Steelers will give him, the proverbial, “One Last Strike”.  I don’t believe any team, not even the dysfunctional Oakland Raiders, is ready to take on Big Ben and the problems that he brings right now.  It would take a blockbuster deal for any team to bite and I don’t see that happening.

As for Roethlisberger, it is time for him to understand that playing in the NFL is not a right, but a privilege and if he doesn’t watch it, he can easily become a forgotten footnote – just ask Pacman Jones. 

We will see by September, if Big Ben decides that football is his first priority.  But this story or the salacious details around it are not going away anytime soon.

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)