Among the rules changes/updates made by the NFL owners Tuesday at their spring meetings here at the Arizona Biltmore was the decision to make as a point of emphasis the existing rule that "egregious" hits come with an ejection and/or a suspension even for first-time offenders.
That's always a fine line. It makes sense, with the league trying to find ways to get safer, like banning leaps over the line to block kicks. In this case, the league hopes to have players more wary of going in for an "egregious" hit knowing an ejection may be forthcoming. (USA Today quoted Giants president John Mara as saying there were only about four such plays last year.) The problem, of course, is that for the player it isn't always easy to make that call in the moment -- like when Deone Bucannon, money linebacker, hit Bengals receiver A.J. Green in 2015, wasn't penalized but was later fined for the hit. Bucannon had a similar bang-bang play against the Chargers in the 2016 preseason, but that was deemed clean.
"If you're over there tip-toeing and trying to do everything perfect, that's going to make you a worse player," Bucannon said during 2016 training camp. "I'm not thinking about, 'Oh, man, what the consequences are.' I've got so many things I need to think about. I need to think about what I'm doing within the defense to help my team win the game. And then on top of that, you expect me in point-one second to (decide where to deliver a hit)? I can't think about all that at the same time, but I'm going to train my body through practice so I can understand."
D.J. Swearinger, now in Washington, had a couple of big hits this past season, but they were clean. It is still possible to do such things. The first time a player is actually booted for a hit, however, will make for a huge story.
UPDATE: Competition committee chairman Rich McKay emphasized that the consideration today was meant as a deterrent. "Don't take that there could be a suspension for first-time offenders as 'We've got a problem,' " McKay said. "We had three or four plays we showed the union, showed our coaches, and we recommended, that if a player isn't ejected on the field -- and that's a difficult thing, we don't get a lot of ejections for football plays -- we recommend a suspension even for a first-time offense. ... We don't expect it to happen a lot, but it was a point of emphasis."