Three players are suspended and both teams have been fined a half-million dollars in total after a freakishly violent end to the Thursday night game between the Steelers and Browns. The announcement came about 12 hours after the game went final, which is faster than any punishment in recent memory.
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett committed the worst on-field offense ever witnessed in 100 seasons of the NFL, which could in a prosecutorial sense be assault and battery, but to the confines of the NFL rulebook it was “using the helmet as a weapon.” Garrett removed the helmet of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and hit him in the head with it. Rudolph’s agent has not ruled out that criminal charges would be sought.
There are many risks an NFL QB assumes with every snap taken on the field. Being hit on your uncovered head by a helmet being swung by a 275 lb DE is not one of them. Tonight could have had a catastrophic ending. The matter will be reviewed thoroughly.
— Younger & Associates/QB Limited (@YoungerAssoc) November 15, 2019
Garrett was suspended for the remainder of the 2019 season, including the playoffs. Officially, he’s listed “indefinitely” suspended, which requires reinstatement by the commissioner during the offseason, which could extend the suspension into the 2020 season. Additionally, in a statement issued by the league, Garrett is also fined an unspecified “additional amount,” which goes beyond the usual measures; while the league’s disciplinary schedule lists “fines and/or suspensions” for flagrant violations, it has invariably been either, but in this case, it is both.
Beyond that, the swinging of the helmet with a clear intent to injure will become the indelible image of what should be the NFL’s centennial season celebration and will be forever invoked any time Garrett’s name comes up, no matter what he accomplishes.
Steelers offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey was also suspended for
three two games for punching and kicking Browns players in the fight. This is a significant punishment in itself, and is buried by the lede. In the first 90 seasons, the NFL suspended two players for multiple games for an on-field infraction; there have been seven such suspensions in the last decade, listed in the table below.
Browns defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi was also suspended for a game for shoving Rudolph to the ground after Rudolph was hit by Garrett.
All three suspended players were also ejected with 8 seconds remaining in the game. In addition to the ejection for a hit on a defenseless player by Browns safety Damarious Randall earlier in the game, there have been 17 ejections this season so far (including 4 in preseason).
There is an expedited appeal process for all three players, although in Garrett’s case, it looks like an appeal would be unsuccessful, especially considering that his return is at the mercy of the commissioner. Those appeals are handled by former players James Thrash and Derrick Brooks, and should be completed by Tuesday.
Appeals officers Derrick Brooks and James Thrash, jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA, have reached their decisions on the discipline appeals for Myles Garrett and Maurkice Pouncey. pic.twitter.com/xfLpiHpVBc
— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) November 21, 2019
As is typical for any disciplinary measure, suspensions are handed out a day after the game where the infraction occurred, but potential fines are then reviewed under the normal midweek procedure. This will include Rudolph for his involvement, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, as Rudolph yanked Garrett’s helmet in scuffle at the end of the play. It also may include other players, particularly for those who came off the bench and entered the fight area.
Adding to the unprecedented nature of this situation, the league fined both teams $250,000 each.
Early in the season, Raiders defensive lineman Vontaze Burfict was suspended for the 2019 season for repeatedly violating player-safety rules, which nets out to 12 games. Garrett’s suspension is the harshest for a single incident on the playing field, after the 5-game suspension served by Albert Haynesworth in 2005. Haynesworth was suspended for removing the helmet of Cowboys center Andre Gurode and scraping his cleats across Gurode’s face.
Multiple-game suspensions of NFL players for game infractions
|Vontaze Burfict||OAK||2019||12 games*||flagrant lowering helmet to initiate contact, numerous past infractions in a continuous span (ejected via replay)|
|Myles Garrett||CLE||2019||6 games*||removing a player’s helmet and using it as a weapon; indefinite suspension (ejected)|
|Albert Haynesworth||TEN||2005||5 games||stepping on face of prone, helmetless player (ejected)|
|Vontaze Burfict||CIN||2017**||3 games‡||blindside block/unnecessary roughness with prior suspendable infractions (no penalty)|
|Vontaze Burfict||CIN||2015†||3 games||multiple infractions of defenseless player hits (no penalty)|
|Maurkice Pouncey||PIT||2019||2 games‡||punching and kicking (ejected)|
|Brandon Meriweather||WAS||2014**||2 games||defenseless player hit, multiple prior illegal hits (prior suspension reduced 2 to 1 game on appeal)|
|Ndamukong Suh||DET||2011||2 games||stomped on prone player (ejected)|
|Charles Martin||GB||1986||2 games||slamming quarterback long after pass thrown (ejected)|
|Antonio Smith||HOU||2013**||1+ game§||using a helmet as a weapon, but no contact (no penalty)|
*Remainder of the 2019 season, including postseason (neither team made playoffs). **preseason. †postseason, served in 2016.