The Detroit Lions are currently in the middle of their bye week, but at least three members of the team weren't sitting back and chilling out on Tuesday. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, head coach Jim Schwartz, and team president Tom Lewand traveled to the NFL's offices in New York to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, senior vice president of football operations Ray Anderson, football operations consultant Jeff Fisher, vice president of officiating Carl Johnson and vice president of football operations Merton Hanks. Schwartz was Fisher's defensive coordinator from 2001 through 2008 when Fisher coached the Tennessee Titans.
The purpose of the two-hour meeting, which Suh requested a month ago, was to get some clarification on just what the NFL considers legal and illegal contact.
Fined a total of $42,500 since he came into the league as the second overall draft pick in 2010, Suh has mixed transcendent play with a problematic tendency to skirt the edge when it comes to what the NFL will accept from its defenders.
It's hard at times for players to know where that line is — such as the penalty Suh got last year for pushing Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to the ground when Cutler was still trying to make a play and was clearly a runner — but there have been other times when Suh simply should have known better.
In each of his two NFL preseasons, Suh has attempted to rip the helmets off of quarterbacks in ways that might have had the heads of those quarterbacks going with the helmets — first, Cleveland's Jake Delhomme in 2010, and then, Cincinnati's Andy Dalton in 2011.
Goodell had this to say of the meeting on his Twitter account:
We appreciate that @Ndamukong_Suh, Coach Schwartz, and team president Tom Lewand took the time to meet with us today.
Ndamukong plays the game with great skill and passion and is a major reason for the Lions' success this year.
We reviewed video showing that he has clearly made the adjustments to play consistently w/in the rules...
... so that he can continue to help the team. We commend Ndamukong's leadership in taking the initiative to schedule today's meeting.
Suh's statement was a bit more concise.
I have gained a better understanding how I need to continue to play the game to help my team win.
I look forward to the rest of the season and doing everything we can to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Detroit.
Asked about the meeting on Wednesday's Dan Patrick Show, Schwartz had this to say: "I was in attendance, and the only comment I have on that is that we're proud to have Ndamukong represent our team. Anytime you have players and the league office communicating, I think it's a good thing."
But, Patrick asked Schwartz, will Suh play any differently now? "Maybe with a little different technique — but I don't think as far as his aggressiveness or anything else. The biggest thing is that Ndamukong doesn't want to do anything that hurts the team when it comes to getting penalties and things like that. I think that comes out of if it, but as far as strength and aggressiveness and the passion with which he plays the game, none of that's going to change for Ndamukong Suh."
Suh made a good and proactive move to go to New York and try to get some clarity on the rules, but it must be asked — if one of the NFL's smartest players has to travel to the league office and get clarification on just what constitutes a legal play, shouldn't the league and the in-game officials be doing more to make it clear to the players precisely what's on the right side of the curve?
We realize that officials have more important things to do, like flexing for the camera and giving windy, needless penalty explanations to increase their facetime, but a little clarity might help. The league changed its rules regarding contact mid-season last year in a reactionary gesture, and there wasn't much time to reinforce the standards in a lockout-shortened preseason. There have been times when the fines the league has handed down seem capricious at best, and the number of instances in which a roughness penalty is not called at the time and the player is still fined later seems to indicate that the officials don't have much of a sense of that line, either.
The Lions will return from their bye to take on the Chicago Bears on Nov. 13. We'll see if Suh changes his style of play, but I wouldn't bet on it.