The Cam Newton kerfuffle, wherein the 2015 NFL MVP suggested that he wasn’t receiving sufficient protection from illegal hits, was resolved in part by the NFL arguing, essentially, that it fails to protect other quarterbacks more. And so the message, intended or not, was that the NFL tolerates the failure to protect quarterbacks, as long as no specific quarterbacks is being singled out for a failure of protection.
Here’s a revolutionary (apparently) idea: How about ensuring appropriate protection for all quarterbacks?
Plenty of other players won’t like it. Whining about quarterback protections has become a cottage industry for defensive players since Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert first declared, in a decidedly non-P.C. way, that the league should simply put skirts on the men responsible for throwing passes.
But as the league tries to alter the new normal of a reduced national appetite of audiences for football simply because it’s on TV, it’s time to essentially put quarterbacks in a bubble — if the NFL can’t protect them with the rules currently on the books.
Last night’s failure of referee Tony Corrente to call at least two roughing the passing penalties for illegal hits to Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford reconfirms the inability of the naked eye embedded in a middle-aged body without the protection of padding while meandering around young, strong, fast men in armor to see what’s actually happening. It happened late in the first half, when Bradford took a helmet to the midsection and exited the game for a few plays, giving everyone (except Cowboys fans) an unwanted glimpse of what the rest of the game would have looked like with Bradford’s backup in the game.
The far more consequential failure came when Cowboys defensive tackle Cedric Thornton hit Bradford in the head on the two-point conversion attempt that would have sent the game to overtime. Once again, a referee failed to see what was happening right in front of him.
The NFL’s reaction to this chronic failure to protect quarterbacks is both predictable and, ultimately, ineffective. “We’ll continue to talk to the officials about this,” senior V.P. officiating Dean Blandino surely will say. Yes they will, and the officials will continue to fail to get the calls right.
At some point, the league needs to accept that no amount of talking will fix the problem. Which means that other solutions must be considered. Here are two ideas.
One, as many have argued, would be to make hits on quarterbacks subject to replay review. Since most of them happen away from a thick cluster of players, the available camera angles will routinely provide indisputable evidence of blows beyond the shoulder-to-knee strike zone and hits in the strike zone with the helmet. If it’s OK to bog the game down to determine whether a defensive player got his pinkie toe off the field some 40 yards from the action, it should be OK to bog the game down to provide appropriate protection for the most important player on either team.
Second, if the officials can’t or won’t in real time notice an illegal hit on a quarterback, why not adopt the kicker/punter rule? If the ball is out, you can’t hit the quarterback at all.
While that won’t solve the problem of illegal hits occurring on a quarterback who hasn’t gotten rid of the ball, it provides a so-simple-a-caveman-can-do-it bright line. Once the throw is away, the quarterback is protected against any and all contact.
Yes, that would be an extreme measure. But it would be effective, if the goal is to better protect quarterbacks. And if the NFL refuses to take meaningful steps to protect quarterbacks under the current rules.