It’s not a sure thing that Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will miss Sunday’s playoff game against the Cowboys.
Although winning an appeal of a suspension in the NFL isn’t easy, it isn’t impossible either. Suh will have his appeal heard by former NFL player and assistant coach Ted Cottrell, and Cottrell isn’t just a rubber stamp for suspensions. In 2012, Cottrell overturned a one-game suspension given to Ed Reed for repeated late hits. Cottrell will give Suh a fair hearing.
And a closer look at the NFL’s official statement on Suh’s suspension indicates that Cottrell will consider only the incident on Sunday, when Suh stepped on Aaron Rodgers’s leg, and not any other previous incidents, when determining whether to uphold or overturn the suspension. The league’s statement said nothing at all about Suh’s prior bad acts and focused only on the specific incident with Rodgers.
In other words, to win an appeal Suh wouldn’t have to defend all his prior personal fouls. He would just have to convince Cottrell that he wasn’t intentionally stepping on Rodgers. Or even if Suh can’t convince Cottrell that he did nothing wrong at all, Suh might convince Cottrell that what he did doesn’t warrant a suspension. When Cottrell overturned Reed’s suspension, he upheld a fine for Reed and said that Reed did deserve some punishment for his late hits. Cottrell just thought the punishment of a suspension was too severe. A fine of any more than $22,000 would actually hurt Suh financially more than a suspension, because players on wild card teams are only paid $22,000 for the first playoff game.
And while Suh hasn’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt over the course of his penalty-plagued career, there are plenty of neutral observers who don’t think Suh was actually attempting to step on Rodgers. Rules experts including former head of officiating Mike Pereira and former NFL official Jim Daopoulos have said they don’t believe Suh was intentionally stepping on Rodgers and don’t believe a suspension is warranted.
Of course, those opinions are far from unanimous. In the letter informing Suh of his suspension, NFL vice president of football operations Merton Hanks wrote that it looked intentional.
“As Rodgers lay on the ground in a defenseless posture, you backed up and stepped on his left leg with your right foot,” Hanks wrote. “You then inexplicably stepped on Rodgers’ left leg again, this time with your left foot. The video then shows that you raised your right foot, applied pressure, and unnecessarily pushed off Rodgers’ unprotected leg with your left foot. Rodgers reacted to your actions by pushing you away with his right hand as he lay on the ground. You did not respond in the manner of someone who had lost his balance and accidentally contacted another player who was lying on the ground.”
The question, then, will be whether Cottrell joins with those like Pereira who believe Suh didn’t intend to step on Rodgers, or whether Cottrell thinks Suh did it intentionally. Cottrell’s decision will have major ramifications for the Lions and Cowboys as they prepare to meet on Sunday.