The NFL will punish teams next season if their players commit multiple flagrant hits that result in fines.
The punishment will be financial, although league vice president Adolpho Birch said yesterday he didn't rule out commissioner Roger Goodell applying further sanctions such as stripping clubs of draft choices.
Citing the "notion of club accountability," Birch says details such as the amount of the fines against clubs, or how many player fines would trigger punishment, have not been determined.
"As a club's total increases to a certain threshold, we will enforce some . . . payback to encourage clubs to stay below that threshold," Birch said. "We're looking at a system similar to one we instituted a couple years ago with off-field conduct."
The NFL began a crackdown on illegal hits, particularly those to defenseless players, last October. It threatened suspensions, but no players were suspended. However, Ray Anderson, the league's chief disciplinarian, has said suspensions will be considered for egregious hits this season.
Now, the clubs are being put on notice as well as the players that illegal hits will result in substantial discipline.
Birch would not identify which teams from 2010 would have been subject to fines had the policy been in place, but did say at least three teams might have been punished.
One player, Pittsburgh All-Pro linebacker James Harrison, was fined $100,000 for flagrant hits last season.
"We'll check the number of fines and the level of fines going out for infractions that relate to various player safety violations," Birch said. "Particularly head and helmet issues."
The 32 owners voted unanimously yesterday to approve rules amendments for player safety, including a measure aimed at keeping a player from launching himself into a defenseless opponent. A 15-yard penalty will result for anyone who leaves both feet before contact to spring forward and upward into an opponent and delivers a blow to the helmet with any part of his helmet.
Such tackles will also be subject to fines.
The definition of a defenseless receiver already has been extended. Now, a receiver who has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner even if both feet are on the ground is considered defenseless.
Also, hits to the head of a passer that are not considered "forcible" blows will not be penalized.
"We are not saying to take the physicality out of the game in any way, shape or form," McKay said. "There are still lots of hits that are legal."
Separately, Birch confirmed that using the World Anti-Doping Agency to administer the league's drug policy is a possibility.
"From a procedural standpoint, we need to look at those options. That would be one option," he said. "We are certainly looking into that to see what that means for us and to see what that does to advance the idea that the NFL remains the leader in this area. What that means, we'll find out, but we are going to take a look at it."