League announcement both good and bad news for the Steelers

Larry French

It’s a “Good News/Bad News” situation for the Steelers this week as the league announced changes made to Roger Goodell’s vehicle for exercising his disciplinary omnipotence.

On one hand the news is good for Troy Polamalu and the Steelers as the NFL announced that the price of fines imposed for violations, whether real or imagined, will not increase this year despite a provision in the CBA allowing the fines to be increased 5 percent per year. Polamalu was fined $10,000 in 2011 for the audacity of calling his wife from the sidelines to reassure her he was okay after suffering a mild concussion as a result of him striking his head against the thigh of Jacksonville Jaguar running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

The rationale for freezing the price of fines was the league's determination that its efforts to make the game safer is paying off as demonstrated by its records that purport to show the players have adjusted to the rules, resulting in a decline in the number of fines issued.

Based on statistics obtained by The Associated Press, there has been a 32 percent decline in the number of fines issued by the NFL since 2009 with a 4.5 percent decline from 2011 to 2012. The total number of fines for illegal hits on quarterbacks dropped 46.4 percent in the last four seasons, from 114 four years ago to 61 issued in 2012. No statistics were disclosed that tabulated any change in injuries suffered on the field as players have been forced to lower their targets towards opponents' knees in an effort to adjust to the rules and avoid incurring the wrath of the NFL for contact between players' helmets while they run at each other at top speed.

On the other hand, the news is not so good for former Steelers James Harrison and the Steelers, as retired Ravens' center Matt Birk has been named to replace Art Shell as one of two of the league's appeals officers. Both the NFL and the NFLPA ratified the selection of Birk and approved retaining Ted Cottrell as the second appeals officer.

Harrison, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, has made a career of wrecking the hopes and dreams of the Ravens, including a one-man beatdown on national TV in a 2007 Monday Night Football game where he had 9 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery and 1 interception as the Steelers dominated the Ravens 38-7.

Birk, a 15-year veteran, was not part of that Ravens team, nor the 2008 version that was swept by the Steelers during the regular season, and then lost in Pittsburgh yet again in the AFC Championship Game. However, upon joining the Ravens in 2009, Birk did experience the frustration the Ravens' typically dealt with when facing the Steelers as in 2010 the two teams split in the regular season, then met again in the playoffs where the Steelers once again prevailed on their way to their third Super Bowl in six years.

The Steelers can only hope Birk's participation in the Ravens' Super Bowl victory last year ameliorates whatever bad feelings he might have accumulated during his time as a Raven in what is still considered one of the best rivalries in professional football and allow his Harvard education guide his decisions when a Steelers player inevitably ends up going to visit him in the league's corporate office in New York City.

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