NFL risks its credibility by waiting on further punishment

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

In a move fully expected by participants and fans alike, the NFL has levied a huge fine against Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin. But by leaving further punishment open for future consideration, exposes questions of its own integrity.

The NFL disclosed today that it is levying a $100,000 fine against Mike Tomlin for his actions in the Thanksgiving Night game against the Baltimore Ravens. In addition, the NFL has also stated that it will consider making the Steelers forfeit a 2014 draft pick after the final order of the 2014 draft order is determined.

Early in the third quarter, Ravens WR Jacoby Jones was in the process of running back a Steelers kickoff for what potentially could have been a touchdown. Tomlin, standing with one foot marginally on the field of play but clearly within the six foot wide Restricted Lane, jumped to his left just as Jones passed. Jones swerved slightly to his right and very shortly thereafter was tackled by Steelers CB Cortez Allen.

Whether Jones could have, or would have taken the ball all the way for a touchdown is not the question; it appeared Allen had more than enough speed to bring Jones down shy of the goal line. Rather, the question that has been raging throughout Steeler Nation, as well as with NFL fans in general, was whether what Tomlin did was intentional.

In a press conference yesterday, Tomlin took full responsibility for his actions, calling them "inexcusable, illegal, and a blunder". Witnessed by a national TV audience, there was no question the NFL was going to take some action.

However, if the League judges Tomlin's actions as being egregious enough to justify punishing the entire Steelers organization by taking away a 2014 draft pick, then levy that punishment now and explain why it (the NFL) feels justified in taking such an action when Tomlin never made physical contact with Jones, unlike former New York Jets strength coach Sal Alosi who actually tripped an opposing player during the course of a play. The Jets were fined $100,000 but were not docked a draft pick for a coach's actions that directly impacted a player's safety. The Jets themselves suspended Alosi.

Otherwise, what the NFL is doing is just as inexcusable and as much a blunder as Tomlin's actions.

While the League may feel justified by the results of its investigation into this matter in docking the Steelers a draft pick, how does waiting for the end of the season make sense? Draft picks have value, yes, but what is the calculus being used in equating an action in a game the Steelers lost (and which ultimately may cost the Steelers a chance at the playoffs) with a draft pick? How is waiting until the value of the Steelers draft position is determined more equitable than suspending Tomlin and temporarily removing his contribution to the Steelers success (or lack thereof) to the rest of this season?

If a Jets' coach who physically tripped an opposing player gets off with just a fine, is the NFL saying that because Tomlin is a head coach, and/or a member of the Rules Committee he should be held to a higher standard? If so, that's understandable. But leaving the question of the magnitude of the total punishment to be levied open; fining Tomlin but reserving judgment on whether a draft pick will be forfeited and if so, what the value of that pick will be suggests the NFL doesn't fully know how severe a message it wants to send in response to Tomlin's actions and borders on a childish spitefulness that has no place in the NFL's governance practices.

If an action warrants punishment, levy that punishment in a timely manner and be done with it. For the NFL to conduct itself in the way it is doing suggests that despite Tomlin's actions not providing the Steelers a win as a result, the NFL will determine whether the Steelers end up being "too successful" this year and will "take them down a peg" in punishment for Tomlin, as HC and Rules Committee member having the temerity to make such a mistake (intentional or not).

If perception begets reality, then what the NFL is doing is just as harmful to its image as Tomlin's were to the NFL and Pittsburgh Steelers brand.

What if the Steelers lose all their remaining games and end up 5-11, do they deserve to lose a higher round pick or a lower one? If they make the playoffs they will lose a what, a lower or higher round pick? It doesn't make sense and if the NFL believes the crime deserves the loss of a draft pick, it should be objective about it.

Take away a compensatory pick, or take away a supplemental pick; both are "bennies" not directly related to the performance of the team in the regular season; a performance that was in no way improved by Tomlin's actions. Compensatory picks are granted if a team loses more players to free agency than it signs; supplemental picks are those teams bid on when pursuing players not eligible for the actual draft.

Or, if the NFL feels the crime deserves the loss of a pick, specify it now; don't wait until an actual value can be determined on the pick. It should tell the Steelers: "...you lose your fourth round pick (or seventh or whatever)...for the actions taken by your head coach". To leave open the question of whether the punishment will even include the forfeiture of a pick, and if so what the value of that pick may be exposes the combined integrity of the NFL and its Commissioner Roger Goodell to speculation of bias and spitefulness and breathes new life into this incident, further bringing unwanted attention to the NFL and unfavorable scrutiny to the integrity of "The Shield."

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