Oh, These Rules, They Need a-Changin’
The Dolphins just completed one of their most controversial games in recent memory last weekend. The typical storylines for a preseason contest other than the second-to-last preseason game are typically along the lines of who played, who sat, who got a minor injury, etc. Last weekend’s Dolphins game against the Texans, however, has sparked a greater amount of debate than any contest in recent history.
The Low Blow On Dustin Keller
The top of the controversy list has been a subject of countless interpretations of NFL rules throughout the course of the week, with the experts falling on both signs of the coin. Dustin Keller (or as DJ Swearinger referred to him on Twitter “Justin Keller”) was lost for the year, and possibly his career, on a low hit on a defenseless receiver when Swearinger launched himself helmet and shoulder first into the back and side of Keller’s knee. While we can’t judge intent, Swearinger’s actions following the incident do lead me to believe that his intentions were never to injure Keller. As Darren Sharper pointed out on ESPN, this goes back to the “Brian Cushing” rule that was implemented after last season to protect defenders and there should be a definitive rule in place.
Until there is a definitive rule in place, and in reviewing the NFL rules regarding defenseless receivers, use of the helmet when tackling, “launching” oneself, and a number of other excerpts from the NFL Rulebook – there are any number of rules in place today that make this an illegal hit. I’m not asking that Swearinger be fined or suspended, as I don’t believe he did this with the intent of injuring him, but the NFL defenders should be aware of this fact moving forward. As many analysts have pointed out, blowing out a players knee may not have the lasting detrimental mental effects of a concussion but in most cases actually poses a greater threat to a players career and longevity in the NFL. Hopefully, for everyone’s sake involved, we see a rule change this offseason to clarify this fact and protect players in these situations.
Richie Incognito, Meet Your Helmet
We all know that Richie has a reputation around the NFL for being a dirty player. Incognito hasn’t gotten a fair break for the ways that he has cleaned up his act and his focus the past few years in Miami, and lets the other player be the one to lose their cool in most situations. He does the little things that most offensive AND defensive linemen do to get in their opponents heads, but quite frankly it’s a rare occurrence that he loses his cool.
Incognito and Antonio Smith have history, looking back to the last time these teams squared off. We should all remember the kicking incident from last season, and if not we’ve all been reminded of it over the past week constantly. I applaud Richie for how well he kept his cool this past weekend when round two between Incognito and Smith took place.
During the play in question, Incognito’s could potentially have been flagged for illegal hands to the face. It wasn’t blatant, but similar to holding being called on the offensive line, you can call that a ridiculous number of times throughout any NFL game. What occurred next was astounding. Smith grabbed Incognito’s helmet and ripped it from his head, pulled the arm back for momentum and swung the helmet back at Incognito’s head and face. There is zero room for that type of play in football. I applaud the NFL for suspending Smith for three games, and for denying his appeal – frankly, he’s lucky he didn’t get a longer suspension and that he wasn’t ejected from the game (or even flagged for the play).
The larger issue here is that, when concerning a player that is already a lock to make the roster and play a great deal as either a starter or who is in the rotation as a starter, a suspension for pre-season games is nearly a joke. Players have long lamented in regards to the preseason and playing in games that “don’t matter” for them other than to stay healthy. For all the parents out there reading this, and as I put on Twitter this morning, this is the equivalent to banning a kid from eating broccoli and letting them eat dessert. Suspensions for a player that is already set to make the roster should be something that are enforced during the regular season. I agree with the three game suspension for Smith, but it honestly only equates to a one game suspension.
Some Texans fans are crying for leniency on this, and Smith attempted to appeal the suspension, but he is a repeat offender at this point. His actions are beginning to head down the path of Albert Haynesworth, Ndamukong Suh and other defensive linemen who have gotten a reputation for play like this which has absolutely no place in the game.
The NFL should re-examine their suspension policies, and possibly enforce the policies from the following perspective utilizing one of the salary cap rules as a tool for determining the suspension type. Within the preseason salary cap rule, there is a “Top 51″ rule that is utilized to estimate each NFL clubs cap number prior to the final roster being set before the season begins. This rule essentially uses the top 51 cap numbers from the expanded roster to determine an estimate of where a team is at regarding the cap prior the eve of the first regular season game. Using the top 51 rule as a dividing line regarding suspensions for infractions that occur in the preseason, if the player falls:
- Within players identified in the “Top 51” rule: all games in the suspension are enforced during the regular season beginning in week one. The player is still permitted to play during the preseason, however if a second infraction were to occur the player will not be eligible to return to the team until week 8 is completed, including for the remainder of the preseason or until the both suspensions have been served, whichever is longer.
- Players outside of the “Top 51” rule: The suspension is enforced immediately during the preseason, carrying into the regular season if applicable.
- If a player is released during the suspension: The suspension is put on hold, taking effect once the player signs on with a new team.
Neither play had an apparent impact on the overall outcome of a meaningless game, but Miami will feel the impact of the loss of Keller throughout the season this year as his sheer ability and immediate chemistry with Tannehill will be tough to replace. Antonio Smith’s absence from the Texans will have minimal impact as during the preseason it gives the Texans further opportunity to analyze their defensive line depth, while he will return to the team in week 2 of the regular season. The NFL competition committee should carefully analyze both plays and outcomes this coming offseason, and make a true ruling that will protect the safety of the players and the integrity of the game. There is no place in the game for either of these occurrences, and without these enhancements to the rulebooks and enforcement of the rules other players will go down with injuries.
Both plays, however, appear to have made a meaningless preseason game quite meaningful in the grand scheme of things.