By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Thursday Night Football is far from a perfect product, yet the NFL continues to roll the games out. It’s especially difficult for players to get ready for them in just three days, and they have a legitimate gripe about the risks that the games pose to their health and safety.
It’s just not something you want to hear from T.J. Ward.
The Buccaneers safety, who infamously knocked Rob Gronkowski out for the season with a low hit to the tight end’s knee area in 2013, spoke to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday about Thursday night games. He complained about the issues that arise with the health and safety of the players.
“I despise Thursday night games,” said Ward, whose Bucs face the Patriots in Tampa on Thursday. “They talk about how they want to keep us healthy, and all these rules to protect the quarterback and protect the receivers, but overall, this is probably the worst thing for a 53-player roster that you can have. In terms of keeping everyone on the field safe, this is probably the worst thing you can do, making us play back-to-back on a Thursday night after a Sunday game.”
He added: “All players feel that way. I bet you there’s not one player in this whole NFL, or coach, that wants to play Thursday. Not one. For the league to do that, they really don’t care about our health.”
Ward isn’t necessarily wrong, but he is arguably the last player in the entire NFL who should be saying these things. He has rightfully earned a reputation over the course of his career for being as dangerous to the health and safety of players as anyone or anything. The Gronkowski hit from 2013 is the least of it.
While you can reasonably expect players to hit a monster like Gronk down low instead of high, Ward took it to another level when he torpedoed his helmet directly into the tight end’s knee:
But incredibly, this might be the least dirty hit of Ward’s career. Bill Belichick’s stare after the play may have been dirtier:
But the point of this story isn’t just to complain about what Ward has done to the Patriots. He has been fined $82,265 for various incidents since his rookie year in 2010. He also was suspended a game in 2015 over an off-field incident, for which he forfeited over $382,000 – but let’s just stick to the on-field stuff.
He was fined $15,000 in 2010, after he absolutely lit up receiver Jordan Shipley with a helmet-to-helmet hit:
Ward drew two separate fines from the same game against the Colts in November 2015. One was $5,787 for wearing his jersey untucked – a sure sign that he’s just a dink – and another $17,363 for this helmet-to-helmet hit on T.Y. Hilton:
To be fair, this was more of an “incidental contact” kind of hit than using his helmet as a battering ram, but nobody’s going to cry for Ward after the reputation he had built for himself to that point.
The very next week, Ward received a penalty and later a $10,000 fine for punching the Chiefs’ Jeremy Maclin as he tumbled to the turf. You can see him throw the punch at about the 0:14 mark, just as the Chiefs’ Charcandrick West runs into the end zone – yes, Maclin didn’t even have the ball when Ward slugged him in the face.
Then there was that time Ward actually managed to get one of his fines rescinded. It happened last season against the Patriots, when he basically suplexed Julian Edelman to the ground.
Ward got fined $9,115 for the play, which drew a costly unnecessary roughness flag. But the league determined it wasn’t bad enough to warrant a fine after Ward appealed the decision. It really wasn’t even on the radar of the worst things Ward has done, but the body slam and subsequent flexing show that Ward still has a propensity to behave like a total jackass on the field.
Ultimately, Ward isn’t necessarily wrong about Thursday night games. It’s another case of the NFL sacrificing health and safety in the name of TV ratings. Not that any fan who doesn’t want the league turned into flag football would complain; this is just the last player who should be complaining about these things. Ward should be keeping words like “health” and “safety” out of his mouth.
You know what’s detrimental to players’ health and safety? T.J. Ward.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.