By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was suspended for one game on Monday, for the late hit he delivered to Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White on Sunday afternoon in Buffalo.
Shortly after the news broke, Adam Schefter reported that Gronkowski will be appealing the ruling.
Neither bit of news was particularly surprising. After the national outcry over the hit — which was obviously dirty and unnecessary — the momentum was moving toward a suspension. And considering Aqib Talib and Michael Crabtree had their two-game suspensions knocked down to one-game suspensions just last week, Gronkowski has nothing to lose by going through the appeal process in an effort to stay on the field for the Patriots.
The Crabtree and Talib situation, though, was very different, as it involved two willing players involved in an altercation. They also were given a longer suspension with the idea that it would be shortened on appeal.
If Gronkowski does hope to win his appeal, he can look to — of all people — Ndamukong Suh to provide the history. While every incident is different, Suh’s victorious appeal in 2014 shows that sometimes the league can wipe out an issued suspension for dirty play.
It was in Week 17 of the 2014 season when Suh, then a member of the Detroit Lions and now a member of the Dolphins who would stand to benefit from Gronkowski being suspended for next Monday’s meeting, nonchalantly stepped on the calf of Aaron Rodgers. Recognizing that the leg of the prized quarterback was underneath him, Suh casually stepped onto the calf again and put all 300 pounds of his weight on Rodgers’ leg.
It was about as obvious as obvious gets.
The league ruled quickly: Suh was suspended one game. Considering it was Week 17, that meant Suh would be suspended for a playoff game.
“[Merton] Hanks ruled that Suh engaged in a non-football act which placed his opponent, Rodgers, at unnecessary risk of injury – specifically the second step and push off, which could have been avoided,” the NFL’s announcement stated.
Despite his lengthy history of dirty play and punishment from the league, Suh appealed the suspension. And somehow, he won.
In what is a common theme with NFL decisions, the suspension was issued to “send a message” rather than to follow a set of known and established guidelines.
Independent appeals officer Ted Cottrell ruled one day later that while he did not at all believe Suh’s excuse that his feet were numb, the punishment was too severe. Cottrell lessened the punishment to a $70,000 fine, allowing Suh to play in the Lions’ playoff game the following week. (The Lions lost that game due in part to some historically bad officiating, you’ll recall.)
Now, the major — major — difference between Suh and Gronkowski is the element of the suspension being enforced for a playoff game. A one-game suspension in the regular season is not at all equal to a one-game suspension in the postseason. That factor cannot be overstated.
(Another factor that likely plays a role is the fact that White was apparently injured after the Gronkowski hit. Rodgers was fine.)
However, the factor of Suh being Suh and Gronkowski having a clean record might work to even the scales in that equation. Prior to the 2014 suspension, Suh had been fined eight times and suspended once for two games. That suspension came from … stomping on a Packers player after shoving that player’s head into the turf.
As ESPN explained at the time, Suh was not “technically” a repeat offender when he stepped on Rodgers, because he had avoided discipline for 32 consecutive games. But Suh’s history was well-established. In 2013, he received the largest-ever fine for on-field play after he took out a Vikings offensive lineman with a diving block at the knees. In 2012, Suh was fined for kicking quarterback Matt Schaub in the crotch.
The fact that Suh was not a “repeat offender” by the letter of the law only affected the level of punishment which the NFL could really impose. But it could still factor in to an arbitrator deciding whether or not to give the benefit of the doubt to the player.
In Suh’s case, the arbitrator did, and the suspension was wiped away.
Then-Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson would represent another case that might work to Gronkowski’s benefit. Goldson was suspended one game for a hit he delivered on Darren Sproles in 2013, but after an appeal, the punishment was reduced to just a $100,000 fine by Matt Birk — matching the heavy monetary punishment given to Suh for his low hit earlier that season. Goldson’s suspension was wiped away even though the hit in question was violent and could have resulted in serious injury.
For Gronkowski, that history might provide at the very least a glimmer of hope.