By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio is an incredibly rare breed, in that he’s an NFL head coach who’s on Twitter. That’s a very small group of human beings, one that includes Del Rio, Pete Carroll, Mike Tomlin, Dan Quinn, and … that might be it.
The difference with Del Rio, though, is that unlike the stock accounts of Tomlin and Quinn, and unlike the goofy-as-heck account of Carroll, Del Rio actually uses the social media site like everybody else in the world. He comments on various topics, quote-tweets commentary and adds his own, and offers his opinion from time to time. (Typically, NFL head coaches aren’t allowed to have opinions on anything.) Giving the thumbs down to Dean Blandino’s explanation of a rule was very much the type of tweet you’d see from Joe Football Fan Or Ronny The Football Writer.
So it wasn’t out of character when Del Rio took to Twitter on Monday night, in the wake of Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree receiving a two-game suspension for his on-field fight with Aqib Talib, to not only question the consistency of the league’s punishment system but also to question the consistency of the league’s punishment system by way of emoji.
Del Rio’s angle is obvious. With his team at 5-6 but just one game out of first place in the dreadful AFC West, and with receiver Amari Cooper likely out for this weekend after suffering a frightening concussion on Sunday, the coach needs Crabtree on the field. Badly. So he’ll likely do what he can to lobby for Crabtree to appeal the two-game suspension and, hopefully, win.
Del Rio was referencing Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who only was issued a $42,000 fine and no suspension after throwing a punch at Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey. For his role, Ramsey received no punishment whatsoever. Del Rio looks at that situation, looks at the Crabtree-Talib brawl, and senses some incongruity. And he’s right!
But, oh, my dear sweet Jack. My good man, Mr. Del Rio, let’s not be naive enough to believe consistency is even remotely a goal of the NFL executive office in any matter, particularly as it relates to player discipline.
As has been noted a time or two in the region of America, precedence means absolutely nothing when the league wants to hand out harsh punishments. The league, quite simply, can act however the league wants.
Back when Roger Goodell suspended several Saints players in the bounty “scandal,” he essentially suspended them for lying. Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, serving as an arbitrator in the appeal, overturned those suspensions because no player in the history of the NFL had ever been suspended before for lying.
Goodell never asked Tagliabue to serve as an arbitrator again.
And when Goodell suspended Tom Brady for “general awareness” of an act by a staff member that was “more probable than not” to have happened, that just so happened to be the first time in the history of football that anyone had ever been suspended for those reasons. Similar infractions had taken place — the now-famed instance of the Vikings and Panthers warming footballs on the sideline, the Chargers and their Stickum towel, etc. — where no punishment was ever issued. But in the case of the famous allegedly deflated footballs, the league went with a punishment of a first-round draft pick, a fourth-round draft pick, $1 million, and four games for the starting quarterback.
Seems a little bit … off. Don’t you think, Jack?
There was also the case of the Chiefs getting absolutely hammered by the league for tampering prior to signing Jeremy Maclin. The NFL took a third-round pick and a sixth-round pick from the Chiefs, in addition to fining the team $350,000 in March of 2016. A year earlier, after the NFL concluded that the Jets tampered with Darrelle Revis before signing him, the NFL punished the Jets a measly $100,000. Similar, if not the same, offense, but a vastly different level of punishment. Such is the way of life in the NFL.
I could go on and on myself, but instead I’ll quote a fantastic writer who covers the NFL and its front office tomfoolery on a regular basis. That writer — who will go unnamed for now, no need to inflate his ego, though he is quite handsome and wise — said this in April of 2016:
The mere existence of Article 46 in the 300-plus-page CBA puts all players on notice that any activity deemed detrimental to the game by Goodell can be punished by Goodell by means of any way Goodell seems fit, even if no other player in the history of any sport has ever been punished for that same activity.
Thus, NFL players better be on their best behavior going forward. If Goodell decides that improper sock length is now a suspendable offense, he’s been given the power to enact such measures. Keep those chinstraps buckled, boys.
Had that writer been able to predict the future, he might have instead gone with “Make sure to leave those gold chains in your lockers, boys.” Nevertheless, the point stands.
It’s unclear how much if at all Goodell was in the doling out punishments to Crabtree and Talib (NFL VP of football operations Jon Runyan wrote the letter of discipline to the players, but that doesn’t mean Goodell wouldn’t have a voice in such a high-profile decision), but that’s hardly relevant. The point is, as always, the NFL and its decision makers in the shadows hold all the power.
Now, Mr. Del Rio, it must be noted that it will be a very difficult battle for you and your player to have even a snowball’s chance in Hades at winning this appeal. Because, well, he was out there boxing dudes in the middle of the field.
That’s uhh … yeah that’s probably worth a punishment. Add in that this is now two years in a row that these two players have gone at it, and two years in a row where Talib has literally ripped the gold chain off Crabtree’s neck, and there is actually a case that this punishment is justified.
But consistent? I’m sorry, Mr. Del Rio, but if you’re seeking consistency, you’re going to have to find a new line of work.