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August 25, 2015

The NFL is cornering the market on junk justice

The question of the week is this:

Which is more confusing – the reason the stock market took a dive or the reason the NFL ruled that the hit Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs put on Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford was legal?

Somehow, we are all supposed to believe that somehow China had something to do with the stock market’s collapse. That seems hard to believe, but it is even harder to believe that you couldn’t find 1.3 billion people in China who would watch the hit Suggs put on Bradford and not come to the conclusion that it was just wrong.

Mind you, China is not one of the countries the NFL rules, but you really don’t need to know that much about football to watch the tape of the Suggs hit and come to the conclusion that Suggs is using himself as a missile to attack the knees of the quarterback.

The problem is that it sure doesn’t look like much of an option, and it sure looks like the only read option was for Suggs to read where Bradford’s knees were, and then take the option to take them out.

Now, the stock market thing might be a little difficult to figure out, but as for the hit on Bradford the suggestion here is that those in charge of the NFL use their noggins for something more than selling hats. For a league that is supposed to be concerned about player safety – and especially the safety of the big-ticket quarterbacks -- it is preposterous to think that a strafing charge at a stationary quarterback without the ball would be blessed with the NFL’s seal of approval.

Well, this seal of approval should be a real seal named Dean Blandino balancing a properly inflated football on his nose while he announced his ruling. Despite a quick call and flag by the referee on the field last Saturday night, Blandino later ruled that the referee was in error, because a quarterback is “considered a runner until he either clearly doesn’t have the ball, or he re-establishes himself as a passer.”

Funny, it sure looked like Bradford had already handed the ball to Darren Sproles and Bradford made no motion forward to travel with the running back. He was simply a sitting duck for Suggs to bowl over. Making matters even worse, Suggs launched himself at the quarterback’s knees.

At first blush, the upshot from all of this has centered on the hype and type of offense that the Eagles run under head coach Chip Kelly. Blandino was making the argument that Bradford and the Eagles were running a read-option play, and Suggs had every right to blast into the quarterback.

The problem is that it sure doesn’t look like much of an option, and it sure looks like the only read option was for Suggs to read where Bradford’s knees were, and then take the option to take them out.

To be fair, Suggs probably could have even geared up for a bigger hit. It is his argument that he read the play correctly, and it was his job to take out the option of the quarterback running the ball.

If that is the case, and Suggs actually did downshift even a little, where does that leave quarterbacks this season?

Unless they play in the classic – and diminishing – sit-in-the pocket systems, it leaves them as sitting ducks, and we are not talking Oregon Ducks. If a quarterback has already handed off the ball and is not moving with any sort of fake, they are now free game.

Welcome to the NFL Marcus Mariota, you might as well try to run an offense in the midst of drive-time traffic.

Making matters even worse is that the NFL has put its officials on a no-win island. By the very nature of the job, officials take a lot of abuses and are second-guessed, but now what?

On the one hand, they are told to officiate a game with an eye toward player safety, and on the other, they are called on the carpet for trying to protect a quarterback. The initial reaction of the official on the field was absolutely correct, there was no need to bury the quarterback in that situation.

If left to stand as a penalty, it would have been a clear warning from the NFL that you can not lock your sights on a quarterback, wait to get tone, and then blast him at the knees – even if he doesn’t have the ball in the backfield.

As a result, you can understand why officials on the field are going to be wary of throwing a flag when a quarterback gets train-wrecked without the football. No official wants to be made to look the fool by having the league come out and say they were wrong, so the tendency will be to let the hits go.

The irony here that in Philadelphia, the big hit, and snarly defensive play has always been admired. If the show was on the other foot, you know Eagles fans would be howling that this is football, not soccer. Let ‘em hit and be hit.

Those days are long gone, and it appeared that everybody was getting up to speed with the new program, but the NFL has once again made an issue complicated. No matter if it’s off the field, or on-the-field, the NFL manages somehow to send out mixed messages, and because the NFL thinks of itself as bigger than China, it has no problem making rulings that contradict pervious rulings.

One guy gets a $25,000 fine for messing with equipment, another gets millions. Domestic abuse rulings are made and changed. A catch is a catch one moment, and not in the next.

There is just no common sense to many recent NFL rulings, but unlike the stock market, the league’s future fortunes appear to be going nowhere but up and up. The league has reached that American status of too big to fail, even with characters such as Roger Goodell and Dean Blandino.