The Buccaneers lost receiver Chris Godwin for the year with a knee injury sustained when he look a low hit after a catch. Regardless of whether it was clean, it was legal. Quarterback Tom Brady believes it shouldn’t be.
On his weekly Let’s Go! podcast, Brady argued for eliminating from the game hits to the knees of defenseless receivers.
“Chris got hit in the knees yesterday which is a play I think they ought to take out of the game of football from a receiver standpoint,” Brady said, via quotes distributed by SiriusXM. “You know, I’ve kind of talked to the [NFL Players Association] about it for a while, and I’d like to speak to the Competition Committee at some point this offseason. I’ve seen that hit too many times where a defenseless pass-catcher is in the process of catching the ball and then he’s hit by the defender. And a lot of the defenders will say, ‘Well, we can’t hit them in the head anymore.’ Well, the point is you can’t hit anyone in the head anymore. [Editor’s note: That’s an overstatement.] You can’t hit anyone in the knees anymore except for receivers, because you can still hit them in the knees. [Editor’s note: That’s an overstatement, too.] Which doesn’t make any sense to me. You can’t hit a defensive lineman in the knees. [Editor’s note: Overstatement.] You can’t hit a punter in the knees. You can’t hit the quarterback in the knees. [Editor’s note: Overstatement, because once he leaves the pocket, he can be hit in the knees.] You can’t hit a DB in the knees. Except we’re somehow allowing hits on defenseless receivers in the knees. So it needs to be addressed and it needs to be really thought out. It really impacts guys’ careers. And Chris, I know he’ll overcome it. It’s a tough rehab. You tear your ACL, that’s a lifelong injury, you know? And I’m sure almost every pass-catcher in the NFL would prefer a hit to the head over a hit to the knees. I certainly would. I’d take that a million out of a million.”
In recent years, the NFL — after focusing on eliminating hits to the head and neck of defenseless players — gradually has chipped away at the ability to hit players low. Regarded for years as the great equalizer between large players and smaller ones who need to get them down, the NFL has begun to realize that low hits do indeed have major negative impacts on players.
Larry Fitzgerald, who offered during his playing career (which possibly could resume this year, in theory) to pay the fines for defensive players who hit him high instead of low, expressed a practical viewpoint.
“I wouldn’t say it was dirty but its just kind of where the game has gone,” Fitzgerald said. “Guys are tackling lower. They had to bring their aim point down. You know, when I played I actually told guys, ‘Hit me up high. I’ll pay your fine.’ The head trauma and things that come along with it, they affect you later on in life. A blown ACL or a ruptured achilles tendon, those things right there will end your career on the spot. And so it’s a very unfortunate part of the game trying to be more cautious and conscientious of guys heads and lowering the aim point but it has definitely put the lower extremities in a much more compromising position. And it is really unfortunate because you see guys like Chris suffer the effects of it, and you see it across the league all the time, especially with the tight ends who are larger. They just get their legs chopped out from under them. I don’t think leg injuries are going anywhere. This is the way guys are going to continue to tackle.”
If Brady has his way (and he’s hardly alone in his thinking), a strike-zone would be created for defenders who hope to dislodge the ball and/or get the receiver on the ground. With the NFL increasingly concerned about limiting avoidable injuries (possibly because it’s the right thing to do, possibly to justify the inevitable move to 18 games), the rules likely will continue to be tweaked to identify and to eliminate techniques that present an unwarranted risk of serious injury.
Eventually, it could be that most if not all low hits are banned, with the exception of ball carriers who have the ability to evade the contact or properly brace for it. At some point, that could go away, too, making football a below-the-shoulders to above-the-knees game. If it happens, that would place a significant priority of having large, strong players who can bull their way through such efforts to block them or to bring them down.