On Wednesday, the NFL dealt Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin a harsh blow. But they could also deal an even-harder blow to the team he directs.
Tomlin was issued a $100,000 fine by the NFL for interfering with a kickoff return in the Steelers’ Thanksgiving Day game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Tomlin was dangerously close to the playing field when Ravens’ returner Jacoby Jones was seemingly on his way to scoring a touchdown. Jones had to veer course at the last minute to avoid contact with Tomlin and was tackled at the Steelers’ 27-yard line.
In addition, the NFL said that it could consider an even harsher penalty.
"Because the conduct affected a play on the field, a modification or forfeiture of draft choices will be considered after the final order of the 2014 draft has been determined," the NFL said in a statement.
It’s entirely possible that the full scope of penalties won’t be revealed until the NFL announces compensatory draft picks for every team in March.
It seems inconceivable that the Steelers would forfeit a high draft pick as the result of Tomlin’s actions, but the NFL could also be looking to make a statement as well.
Tomlin reversed course in statements made on Tuesday. He had stated after the game on Thursday that other coaches often walked in the white striped area that separates the playing field from the sidelines. On Tuesday, Tomlin clearly saw the error of his ways.
"I can't be in that space and I was, so I take full responsibility for that," Tomlin said. "It's an inexcusable blunder on my part. I understand with my position comes the charge of preserving and protecting the integrity of the game of football, and I think probably my biggest error on Thursday night is not realizing that play jeopardized the integrity of the game from a perception standpoint."
As far as further sanctions levied against Pittsburgh, Steelers safety Ryan Clark was quick to come to his coach’s defense.
"He accepted responsibility for it. He understands the wrong that he did and you like a man that accepts things and is accountable for his actions," he said. "We all just want to be able to move on from it."
In addition, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh seemed satisfied with the resulting fine.
"We certainly respect the Steelers and Mike Tomlin completely. We never really thought for one second that there was intentionality there personally," he said.
So, just why exactly is the NFL considering further sanctions?
The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell always claim that the integrity of the game itself is above all else. They have in the past heavily fined coaches for various transgressions. In 2007, New England Patriots coach Bill Bellichich was docked $500,000 for his role in “Spygate.” In addition, the Patriots lost draft picks as well as the team being fined $250,000.
The NFL believed at the time that Bellichick’s actions clearly warranted the loss of draft picks because of the presumed edge the Patriots were trying to gain in secretly videotaping an opposing team’s practices. That is certainly more egregious than what Tomlin did on Thanksgiving night.
Tomlin would have had to be on the field to directly interfere with Jones during his kickoff return. In addition, the play did not have an effect on the outcome of the game—the Ravens ended up winning 22-20. Given the angle that Steelers defenders had on Jones during the return, he would have been caught from behind before he reached the end zone, anyway.
Tomlin and the Steelers have been sufficiently spanked for Tomlin’s transgression. Taking draft picks away isn’t just overkill, it’s completely unwarranted.