Following week 6 the NFL began a crusade against what it termed "violent hits". The league's new-found concern with player safety, while seemingly valid, concerned itself mainly with wide receivers taking shots in the secondary. Some of the more cynical among the NFL's audience and participants noted that the league has balked at some player protections suggested in the past, for reasons that can mostly be traced back to profitability. Others, myself included, theorized that the new rules were designed for motives less admirable than player safety.
The obvious way to measure the success of any initiative is to examine its results. We'll take a look at what these new rules brought to week 7 in time, but keep in mind there are other sins in the world of the NFL that can't be flagged by the referees.
There were $102,500 worth of fines levied for week 7, down significantly from $262,500 collected off from the previous Sunday. Some of the more notable: Washington Redskins' defensive tackle and malcontent Albert Haynesworth was fined $7,500 for hitting Bear lineman J'Marcus Webb away from the play. Arizona Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett was docked $10,000 for a late hit on a receiver. Minnesota Vikings OT Phil Loadholt got the NFL hit for $20,000 for a facemask on the Packers' Clay Matthews.
Those are all significant sums of money, but it's all about player safety, right? What could be more important than that?
Public relations, for one thing.
Two other Vikings were tabbed for larger fines than Loadholt last week for off-the-field misconduct -- one for talking too much, the other for not talking at all.
Last week, beleaguered Vikings coach Brad Childress was fined $35,000, for criticizing league officiating in the media. It was the by far the largest tariff collected. Close behind was the $25,000 levied against WR Randy Moss for 'declining to make himself available' to the media. So these two Vikings were docked $60,000 -- part of it for a man who couldn't say something nice, the rest by a man who wouldn't say anything at all.
You might think Randy Moss should be commended for having not said the wrong thing for perhaps the first time... well, ever.
To put it another way, Moss could have facemasked Clay Matthews and saved five grand. Brad Childress could have hit J'Marcus Webb away from the play (of course) four times and still had enough left over to make a down payment on the moving van he'll need come January.
Presumably, following their game against the Patriots this afternoon, they'll both say all the right things.
Now that we've examined the wages of sin, let's explore the benefits of good behavior. After the quarter of a million in fines collected, and the video released by the league clarifying the new hard-line stance, fines for on-field infractions dropped dramatically. Are you a strong proponent of player safety? Then that's a win. It means that those receviers running their routes in the middle of the field, didn't have to worry as much about being clobbered by an unseen defensive back. Offenses got a little stronger last week.
If you're among the large number of people who make their living by marketing the product that is the NFL? Then week 7 was a win for you too. The average number of points scored in NFL games last week was a record-setting 53. Offenses got a little faster last week as well. Passing games got a little sexier, catches a little more flamboyant with the threat of a safety or corner rocking an unprepared receiver removed.
It's a win for everyone except defenses and purists, both of whom have watched the NFL slowly erode defensive tools in favor of making the product slicker, and theoretically more marketable to younger viewers, who (the thinking goes) like swift action and high scores. You know, those two things that defenses are built to inhibit.
That more fines are going to be handed out is a given. That someone is going to be suspended for a hit before the season is over seems certain. But there are also going to be some consequences that the league either didn't foresee, or have written off as acceptable losses.
We'll discuss those consequences soon. But in the meantime, enjoy the games this week. The players are fast, the scores will be high.
And when it's over? Everybody will say just the right thing.