The NFL announced Saturday afternoon that New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is being fined $21,855 for unnecessary roughness.
The play in question, a run in which Barkley lowered his head into an Eagles’ defender, came towards the end of the second quarter in Sunday’s Week 16 game in Philadelphia.
Another big running back fine: The NFL docked #Giants star Saquon Barkley $21,855 for unnecessary roughness on this play last week.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 30, 2023
The league has been cracking down all season on players lowering their heads to initiate contact. pic.twitter.com/jp1k87PUUC
As Pelissero notes, the NFL has emphasized players lowering their heads in an attempt to stop them from using their helmets as weapons. Given the NFL’s checkered (to say the least) history with head and brain injuries, emphasizing player safety is obviously a good (and necessary) move. Likewise, nobody wants to see something like Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa laying frozen on the ground with a concussion.
However, the speed and violence of the game often puts players in unwindable positions. On one hand, they’re coached to play hard and fast, using their physicality to pick up yardage or stop opponents — as Barkley does here. Other times, players are sometimes put in impossible positions by their opponents’ actions (such as an offensive player ducking when after a defender starts his tackle).
We’ve also seen the NFL penalize plays that simply look ugly, like this play from Eagles running back D’Andre Swift against the Washington Commanders.
Brandon Jacobs would need a GoFundMe. https://t.co/3XC9HAQ5hV— Chris Pflum (@RaptormkII) November 5, 2023
The league isn’t wrong to push for greater safety for the players, and sometimes players do indeed play out of control. But it does lead to them penalizing tough, physical — but not dirty — football.
The NFL has been under fire for the officiating this year (and in recent years), and perhaps the most frustrating aspect has been the inconsistency in the calls. What might be acceptable for one crew is a penalty for another, while an unflagged play could be fined by the league office later that week. Ultimately, the NFL needs to come up with concise rules as to what is, and isn’t, acceptable and communicate those clearly with the players. Otherwise, they’re just going leave players and fans frustrated and distrusting by punishing what appears to be good, tough, football.