Last month, when word first broke of the Saints using a bounty system for three years, we pointed out at some point that the targeting of players for injuries will do nothing to make teams more candid about the reporting of existing player injuries. Now that the audio of Gregg Williams’ pre-game comments from January 2012 has been released, with graphic instructions on how to inflict injury on opponents, look for coaches to be even more reluctant to disclose who is hurt and what is hurting them.
As many of you have suggested, it also may be time for the NFL to revisit its injury-reporting policies. We have long believed that the NFL has constructed a cursory set of injury guidelines in order to create the impression that there is no inside information for folks with gambling interests to attempt to obtain by, for example, offering envelopes full of cash to someone in the organization who knows the truth. Now that we know Williams was offering envelopes full of cash to players who successfully knocked other players out of games, the NFL may be forced to choose between the lesser of two cash-envelopes evils.
Since the league’s injury-reporting system currently has plenty of flaws that the league doesn’t seem inclined to fix, maybe the NFL should adopt an NHL-style “upper body”/”lower body” approach to injuries, which would then possibly give folks who plan to target players for injuries a more vague bull’s eye.
Of course, that won’t solve the problem. There has always been a strategic benefit to knocking key members of the opposing team out of a game. But most players and coaches have refrained from declaring that reality publicly.
Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall pulled back the curtain last September, when Washington was preparing to play the Cowboys and quarterback Tony Romo, who was recovering from a rib injury. “I want to get a chance to put my helmet on whatever’s hurt,” Hall said. “Romo’s ribs — I’m going to be asking for some corner blitzes. If I know Felix Jones’ shoulder’s hurt, I’m not going to cut him. I’m definitely going to try to hit him up high, so that’s just part of it.
“If you know something’s wrong with an opponent, you’re going to try to target in on that,” Hall added. “We’re going to try to definitely get as many hats on that team as possible.”
Here’s what I added at the time: “Hall isn’t saying anything that football players don’t already think. Especially at the quarterback position, any opportunity to knock the starter out of the game should be embraced.”
Several Saints fans, grasping for anything that will draw attention away from the stunning comments of their former defensive coordinator, have suggested that what I wrote seven months ago is no different than what Williams said in January. To that I say, “Child please.” The difference is that what I wrote is something that players innately know to be true, and that the line is hopelessly crossed when a man who isn’t putting on a uniform and entering harm’s way commands his troops to, essentially, “sweep the leg.”
The Saints fans who have been looking for something/anything to cushion the consequences of offering money to inflict injury and/or urging players to inflict specific types of injuries also have overlooked the next paragraph of our story from September 2011: “But when it comes to putting a helmet on Romo’s ribs, Hall should be careful not to do it when Romo is in the act of throwing a pass, or when he has just thrown a pass. Under the rules, Romo is defenseless at those times, and he can’t be hit in the helmet or with a helmet.”
If a player hits another player hard within the confines of the rules and the player who receives the hit can’t continue to play because of it, that’s a traditionally unspoken strategic reality of football. If, for example, Hall successfully had blasted Romo during the ensuing game and Romo’s backup would have been forced into the fray, the Redskins would have had a better chance to win.
The balance the NFL now has to strike as it tries to change its culture comes from the inherent difference between the things that players and coaches already know — and the things that coaches and players say openly about the things they know. As part of that balance, the NFL needs to reconsider whether and to what extent players and coaches should ever know that opponents enter a given game already injured.
In the end, that may be the only way to properly address what was, before March 2, an open secret for the NFL.