The six-figure fine imposed by the NFL on Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, along with the lingering possibility that a draft pick will be forfeited or modified, leave open a fairly important question.
Does the NFL believe Tomlin meant to do it?
“Intent is not a factor in discipline because it cannot be determined,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFT via email. “An individual is fined for an action that is a violation.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean the NFL would have applied the same penalty if the league believed Tomlin intended to step toward (and onto) the field of play after Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones broke free from the Steelers’ kickoff coverage. It only means that the league couldn’t (or didn’t try to) discern intent.
Tomlin strongly denied that he meant to step from the middle of the white sideline stripe to the edge of the field, with one field in the field itself. Given his track record, Tomlin received the benefit of the doubt.
Still, the available video evidence allows reasonable minds to differ on whether, in the heat of the moment and with only a flicker of intent, Tomlin opted to make himself into a distraction/obstacle for Jones.
From the league’s perspective, that wasn’t enough to infer that Tomlin did it on purpose. If the league had come to that conclusion, chances are the discipline would have been far more significant.