On Tuesday, James Thrash, the NFL’s Appeals Officer for on-Field Player Discipline, denied the one-game suspension appeal of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Because of that, in addition to the outcome of a few other hits that took place in Week 13, it has led to several speculating that Smith-Schuster’s appeal was denied mainly because the Steelers wide receiver stood over Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict after he made contact with him with his helmet in the head and neck area. On Wednesday, however Troy Vincent, the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations, said during a conference call with the media that taunting was not a factor in the decision to suspend Smith-Schuster.
“Taunting was never considered, at least from our office,” Vincent said. “It was the act of hitting Vontaze Burfict in the head area. The taunting was not considered. Are we sending a mixed message? We’ve been very consistent, fair, firm.”
This is interesting because in his letter to Smith-Schuster notifying him of the suspension, NFL VP of Football Operations Jon Runyan, who actually issued the suspension, noted that Smith-Schuster violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7 which prohibits unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture and Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 which prohibits unsportsmanlike conduct.
“You are suspended for the dangerous and unsportsmanlike acts you committed during the fourth quarter of last night’s game. Specifically, with 7:10 remaining, on a passing play to a running back, you lined up a defender and delivered a violent and unnecessary blindside shot to his head and neck area. You then “celebrated” the play by standing over him and taunting him. The contact you made with your opponent placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury and could have been avoided. Your conduct following the hit fell far below the high standards of sportsmanship expected of an NFL player.”
As you can see in Runyan’s letter to Smith-Schuster, it appears as though the Steelers wide receiver was suspended because he violated two rules. Vincent, however, now claims that Smith-Schuster standing over Burfict following the block and thus taunting him was not a factor in that decision. That’s curious and if indeed the case, why did Runyan even mention the taunting in his letter to Smith-Schuster.
Now, on top of everything else, Smith-Schuster is a rookie and thus doesn’t have a history when it comes to illegal hits. While it’s hard to judge intent, and while Smith-Schuster’s hit on Burfict was indeed illegal, according to NFL rules, I personally do not believe that the Steelers wide receiver intended to hurt him. I think he just hit him about six inches higher than he should have. Additionally, Smith-Schuster then standing over Burfict and taunting him was uncalled for and that illegal action, which should be deemed as a totally separate one from the illegal hit, deserved to be penalized and ultimately fined for.
Before we move forward, below is the block that former Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin issued to Bengals punter Kevin Huber back in 2013 and while that block did not draw a penalty flag, Garvin was later fined for hit. Additionally, Huber suffered a broken jaw as a result of that hit. Garvin, wasn’t, however, suspended for his hit, that in all honesty, was much more brutal than the one Smith-Schuster issued Monday night to Burfict.
Moving forward. By now, you’ve probably already seen the block by Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones on Minnesota Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo during the first quarter of the Sunday game between the two teams. Jones was not flagged for his block and it also doesn’t appear as though he’s been fined for it since the game ended as well. In defense of Jones, it appears as though his block included him leading mainly with his shoulder, as opposed to Smith-Schuster leading with more of his helmet. Even so, Jones’ lowered shoulder does appear to still strike Sendejo in his neck area. Jones, didn’t, however, taunt Sendejo after making the block, but, his block did come right at about the same time the Falcons running back was being taken to the ground.
Vincent claims that punishments have been fair and firm. If thats the case, why did Bengals safety George Iloka have his one-game suspension for making helmet-to-helmet contact with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the end zone Monday night overturned by independent arbitrator Derrick Brooks on Wednesday?
After that news was announced, Iloka’s agent Ron Slavin said in a statement: “We are grateful to appeals officer Derrick Brooks for reducing George’s penalty a one-game suspension to a fine equivalent to what players who were recently involved in similar plays received. George did nothing wrong on the play and the helmet-to-helmet contact was a result of Antonio Brown’s lowering his head as he braced for contact, we felt and argued that a suspension was particularly egregious. We thank Derrick for acknowledging our concerns and making the proper decision.”
What? Brown lowered his head as he braced for contact? Do you see that in the gif below? Yeah,me neither.
Iloka was also suspended by Runyan on Tuesday and in his letter to the Bengals safety he wrote that the player violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7 which “prohibits forcibly hitting a defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm or shoulder.”
Runyan also wrote to Iloka that “you violently struck a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area. The Competition Committee has clearly expressed its goal of ‘eliminating flagrant hits that have no place in our game’ and has encouraged the League office to suspend offenders for egregious violations such as the one you committed last night.”
Unlike Smith-Schuster, Iloka is not a first-time offender when it comes to illegal hits as he’s been previously fined for in-game actions against former Steelers tight end Heath Miller and former Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley. Its a wonder that Brown didn’t suffer a concussion from Iloka’s hit. But, hey, at least Iloka didn’t taunt Brown after the hit.
The NFL got it wrong this week across the board. For starters, if the league is going to suspend Smith-Schuster for his hit on Burfict, then Iloka should be sitting out Week 14 as well. Additionally, the hit by Jones on Sendejo, while likely deemed as a legal one, needs to be closely examined. On top of everything else, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski probably deserves a two-game suspension for what he did to Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’davious White during the Sunday game between the two teams.
Consistent? Fair? Firm? Sorry, Mr. Vincent, the league was anything but those three things this past week.