INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NFL got back to football for a day.Not on the fields, of course, with the lockout in its 10th week. In the meeting rooms, where the league announced Tuesday it will punish teams next season if their players commit multiple flagrant hits that result in fines.
The 32 owners also voted unanimously to approve amendments to player safety rules offering more protection to defenseless players and putting more bite in penalties for launching.
Naturally, they discussed strategy for the labour impasse — most of their afternoon session at these spring meetings was dedicated to that topic. But the big news was the commitment to the “notion of accountability,” according to league vice president Adolpho Birch.
Any punishment will be financial, although Birch didn’t rule out Commissioner Roger Goodell applying further sanctions such as stripping clubs of draft choices. Details such as the amount of the fines against clubs, or how many player fines would trigger punishment, have not been determined.
“From our end, we are looking at a system that is similar to the one we put in a couple years ago with respect to off-field conduct to really encourage clubs and encourage coaches to teach the proper techniques and to correct dangerous play on the field,” Birch said. “As a club’s total increases to a certain threshold, we will enforce some … payback to encourage clubs to stay below that threshold.
“We have to look at it in the context of the penalties that are already being imposed. The player himself will get penalised, which penalizes the team. Subsequently, the player could also be fined by the league. Under our thought process now, nothing would occur unless there was a league fine or suspension. That is what this policy is designed to do, not simply to punish a team for a penalty on top of the penalty itself, but really to look at things that are egregious enough to result in a fine or suspension by the league.”
The NFL began a crackdown on illegal hits, particularly those to defenseless players, last October. It threatened suspensions, but no players had to sit out games. However, Ray Anderson, the league’s chief disciplinarian, has said suspensions will be considered for illegal hits this season.
Now, clubs as well as the players are being put on notice that illegal hits will result in substantial discipline.
Birch would not identify which teams from 2010 would have been subject to fines had the policy been in place, but did say at least three teams might have been punished. One player, Pittsburgh All-Pro linebacker James Harrison, was fined $100,000 for flagrant hits last season.
The rules amendments for player safety included a measure aimed at keeping a player from launching himself into a defenseless opponent. A 15-yard penalty will result for anyone who leaves both feet before contact to spring forward and upward into an opponent and delivers a blow to the helmet with any part of his helmet.
Such tackles will also be subject to fines.
The definition of a defenseless receiver already has been extended. Now, a receiver who has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner even if both feet are on the ground is considered defenseless.
Defenseless players cannot be hit in the head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm or shoulder. The definition of such players now includes those throwing a pass; attempting or completing a catch without having time to ward off or avoid contact; a runner whose forward progress has been stopped by a tackler; kickoff or punt returners while the ball is in the air; kickers or punters during a kick or a return; a quarterback during a change of possession; a player who receives a blindside block from a blocker moving toward his own end zone.
penalised players are subject to being ejected for flagrant fouls.
“This should permanently change the mentality of a defensive player trying to loosen the ball to change your target point,” said competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons.
Also, hits to the head of a passer that are not considered “forcible” blows will not be penalised.
“We are not saying to take the physicality out of the game in any way, shape or form,” McKay said. “There are still lots of hits that are legal.”
Birch also confirmed that using the World Anti-Doping Agency to administer the league’s drug policy is a possibility.
“From a procedural standpoint, we need to look at those options. That would be one option,” he said. “We are certainly looking into that to see what that means for us and to see what that does to advance the idea that the NFL remains the leader in this area. What that means, we’ll find out, but we are going to take a look at it.”
Also Tuesday, NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said no contingency plans for a shortened season were discussed.
“Our contingency plan, first, last and ongoing,” he said, “is to negotiate an agreement with the players association. So any opening of training camps is based on a collectively bargained agreement.”
Colts owner Jim Irsay said something needs to be in place by July 4 to avoid jeopardizing the regular season. Irsay estimated a $1 billion loss in revenues if that doesn’t happen.
“If you miss those preseason games, or a game or two (of the regular schedule), or start late,” Irsay said, “you have lost significant money, in excess of $1 billion.”
The league also canceled next month’s rookie symposium, the first league event called off because of the lockout.
“We waited as long as we possibly could,” Birch said. “The rookie symposium is an extremely large, complex event that requires a lot of people from an attendance standpoint. Based on the uncertainty in the labour situation, it’s to the point we needed to be fair to those who would come to help us put it on.”
The symposium, which was to begin June 26 in Canton, Ohio, instructs rookies in money management and life skills and allows them to meet current and former players.