The NFL could soon start suspending players for dangerous helmet hits, executive vice-president of football operations Ray Anderson told The Associated Press on Monday.
A day after several scary collisions in Sunday's games, Anderson acknowledged the league might need to do more than fining players to prevent such hits — and soon.
"There's strong testimonial for looking readily at evaluating discipline, especially in the areas of egregious and elevated dangerous hits," he said in a phone interview. "Going forward there are certain hits that occurred that will be more susceptible to suspension. There are some that could bring suspensions for what are flagrant and egregious situations."
Anderson said the NFL could make changes in its approach immediately, with Commissioner Roger Goodell having the final say. League officials will consult with the union, but he didn't expect any opposition.
"I hadn't heard that, but obviously suspensions would be a much bigger deal than fining guys," said Colts centre Jeff Saturday, the team's player representative. "I guess I don't know what Goodell is going to say constitutes a suspension or not, but if guys are head-hunting out there to knock a guy out of the game, that's the only way to take care of it."
The Eagles' DeSean Jackson and the Falcons' Dunta Robinson were knocked out of their game Sunday after a frightening collision in which Robinson launched himself headfirst, while Steelers linebacker James Harrison sidelined two Browns players with head injuries after jarring hits.
Anderson wouldn't speculate on how any players would be punished for hits from Sunday's games.
"The fundamentally old way of wrapping up and tackling seems to have faded away," he said. "A lot of the increase is from hits to blow guys up. That has become a more popular way of doing it. Yes, we are concerned they are getting away from the fundamentals of tackling, and maybe it has been coached that way. We're going to have to look into talking to our coaches."
Eagles coach Andy Reid saw close-up the Jackson-Robinson collision.
"That was a tough one there from both sides," Reid said Monday. "The league has put a lot of emphasis on removing the helmet out of the contact point, in particular around the chin or neck area. But some of these are bang-bang. That was a bang-bang deal right there. That wasn't something this kid had planned. He wasn't going to go in there and knock himself out. That's not what he was trying to do here.
"But in a case like that, the more the head is out of the picture, in particular out of the neck area, that's something the league is striving to work on."
Retired safety Rodney Harrison, now an analyst for NBC, was fined more than $200,000 during his career and was suspended for one game in 2002 for a helmet-to-helmet hit.
"You didn't get my attention when you fined me five grand, 10 grand, 15 grand," he said during the "Sunday Night Football" broadcast. "You got my attention when I got suspended and I had to get away from my teammates and I disappointed my teammates from not being there. But you have to suspend these guys. These guys are making millions of dollars."
Jets safety Jim Leonhard was flagged 15 yards for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Brandon Lloyd in a 24-20 win over the Broncos. Denver coach Josh McDaniels called it an example of how hits often look vicious on TV, but aren't really what they appear.
"I don't think there's anybody that's out there coaching helmet-to-helmet hits," McDaniels said. "I sure know we're not and I don't believe in my heart that there's anybody out there trying to hurt other players. I think a lot is made of we should punish, we should punish, we should punish. And (I say) tell the player what to do differently in some of those situations.
"Because I think there's certain ones you can see and say, 'That was probably avoidable.' "
Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell wonders if the NFL is getting "too strict" about tackles involving the helmet.
"As a defensive player, you have to think about how you hit somebody now, which is totally ridiculous to me," Bell said. "You're trying to get a guy down. Sometimes you get caught leading with your helmet. When you're going to tackle a guy full speed, you can't really think, 'Oh, I have to hit this guy a certain way.' You have to get him down as best you can. Sometimes it's helmet to helmet, which guys aren't trying to do, but that's just the way it is. It's part of the game."