By Ken Cohen
Up until a few days ago, whenever I heard the word bounty, I thought of the “quicker picker upper,” the tagline for the popular paper towel brand that described how fast it absorbed water. Now, thanks to the New Orleans Saints, it has a whole new meaning as in how fast NFL players can pick up quick cash for laying out opposing players.
The NFL is suddenly all aghast about this pay for pain scheme that has been quietly going on since the league started. Because it sounds bad that players were getting paid to hurt other players the league is trying to save face and take action. How politically expedient!
Here’s a little football 101: on defense, you are supposed to tackle the opposing player who has the ball. This requires physical contact, sometimes harder than other times depending on the size and power of the player with the ball. These “hits” by the defensive player should be forceful and they should be impactful. Not necessarily to try and hurt the other player, but to impose strength and generate an intimidation factor. Why is this important? If offensive players whether they be quarterbacks, running backs or wide receivers have any fear of getting hit hard by an opposing player that dramatically alters how they play. It can force a quarterback to throw early, a running back to cut too soon or a wide receiver to break off a route.
It’s ultimately a game-changer. Hard, punishing hits that make an offensive player feel the contact are as much a part of defensive strategy as is play calling for the offense. Also, let’s not forget that jarring tackles also can also force fumbles.
So there would be nothing wrong in saying that defensive players are paid to hit offensive players with strength and force. Sometimes those hits might result in injuries and players leaving the game. Why then, does the NFL have a problem with defensive players getting paid extra for making legal tackles that might land a player on the sideline? Isn’t that what they’re paid to do? I’m not talking about illegal hits to the head or below the knees those have no place in the game and would justifiably draw a fine far greater than any bounty money received. I’m sure all Gregg Williams was after in New Orleans were just legal, pad-to-pad, helmet-in-chest powerful hits that offensive players would remember.
What I don’t understand is why would NFL players who get paid millions of dollars be incentivized to do their jobs by the promise of a few thousand dollars more? If these are true winners, they shouldn’t need to be bribed to lay a good hit on an offensive player. In that sense, there is no need for bounties. That’s really all the NFL should say about the New Orleans situation. That it was unnecessary. Perhaps a fine or suspension is in order to make this point, but any additional hype or attention would not be in the NFL’s interest. Perhaps former Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick said it best the NFL is walking a very fine line trying to distinguish good hits and good hits that may cause players to leave a game.
Ken Cohen is an editorial advisor to the Democrat. He brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies. His “Further Review” column will appear every Friday.