In an interview with Bob Costas aired during NBC’s Football Night in America, Ravens coach John Harbaugh sounded like a guy who has no problem with the league’s new approach to helmet-to-helmet hits against defenseless receivers.
“Going helmet-to-helmet or shoulder-to-helmet against defenseless players is no longer part of the game. There’s no question in my mind that our team has figured it out, most of the league has figured it out, and shortly everybody will figure it out,” Harbaugh said.
“It’s not that hard to figure out. You’ve got to respect each other. And I think that player safety is really important. And if you have enough respect for the guy you’re playing against, you’ll adhere to that.”
That was before Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain received a $40,000 fine for applying a helmet-to-helmet hit against Steelers tight end Heath Miller at a time when Miller fell within the definition of “defenseless receiver.”
“I was shocked,” Harbaugh said Tuesday night on his weekly radio show, via Aaron Wilson of NFP. “He’s a first-time offender. Jameel, there was nothing he can do. I think the league understands that. I can’t imagine why they fined him so much.”
But, Coach, Jameel went helmet-to-helmet against a defenseless player.
“Jameel tried to go low,” Harbaugh said. “He did everything humanly possible to hit the tight end low. You fine a guy $40,000 for trying to apply the rule. He tried to do something that’s against the rule of physics. I say you’re taking someone’s money unfairly.”
And there you have it. Coaches like Harbaugh fully support the rule, as long as it’s used only to protect his players and not to punish them. Regardless of Miller’s actions, McClain led with his helmet, placing the impact beyond the rules.
McClain actually was lucky that he was fined only $40,000. First-time offenders coughed up $50,000 for illegal hits applied on October 17, and Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson’s infraction was far less obvious than McClain’s.
The better argument that Harbaugh should be advancing is that fines should be based on percentages of base salary, given that McClain will earn $470,000 in 2010. His fine represents 8.5 percent of his gross pay.
The numbers are wildly inconsistent, when compared to base salaries. For Robinson, the $50,000 fine reflected only one percent of his $5 million base salary. For Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather, a $50,000 fine chewed up nine percent of his $550,000 base salary.
Steelers linebacker James Harrison has coughed up more than 16 percent of his $775,000 base salary for four illegal hits this year.
That said, those percentages shrink for players like Harrison when factoring in bonus money. That’s why the best approach would be to fine players based on percentages of cap number, not base salary.
It’s an easy fix, and it’s a fair fix. And it’s an argument that would make Harbaugh seem far less hypocritical than he now does, given the stark contrast between his nationally-televised remarks to Bob Costas on Sunday and his local-radio comments on Tuesday.