The NFL came down hard on Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Wednesday, fining him $100,000, and the worst could still be on the way.
The NFL announced the fine and added that "a modification or forfeiture of draft choices will be considered after the final order of the 2014 draft has been determined." The NFL said that it is still considering that step involving either taking away a draft pick or moving the Steelers down in the draft order because Tomlin's actions affected a play on the field. On Thanksgiving, Tomlin strayed near the field and forced Ravens returner Jacoby Jones to alter his route on a long kickoff return.
Tomlin apologized during his press conference on Tuesday but said he didn't impede Jones' progress on purpose. The NFL didn't fully buy his apology, judging by the harsh penalty.
The NFL said in its announcement that Tomlin should have been given a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. He was not penalized on the play.
"During the return, Tomlin – in violation of Rule 13, Section 1, Article 4 of the NFL Rule Book – was in the restricted white border that surrounds the playing field and stepped foot onto the playing field during the play," the NFL announced.
The fine is substantial. ESPN reported it is just the fourth reported fine of $100,000 or more handed down to a head coach in NFL history. New England's Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 for his role in the Patriots' spying scandal, and that's the record for largest fine to a head coach. The Steelers' organization wasn't fined for Tomlin's actions.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he believes that Tomlin didn't interfere on purpose:
Harbaugh said he never thought Tomlin interfered intentionally. He added he respects Tomlin and Steelers.— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) December 4, 2013
Tomlin released a statement on the fine:
"As I stated yesterday, I take full responsibility for my actions, and I apologize for causing negative attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. I accept the penalty that I received. I will no longer address this issue as I am preparing for an important game this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins."
Still, it's the loss or change of draft picks (and the NFL used the plural "picks" in the release), that could have the biggest long-term effect. Penalizing a team by taking away draft picks is a fairly rare action by the NFL, and reserved for the most egregious crimes (Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review said the NFL has taken a draft pick away from a team just 12 times since 1980). Why the league hasn't figured out if Tomlin's actions are worth a draft pick penalty is unclear, and why the league must wait for the order of the 2014 draft to be set is odd. But the NFL obviously considers Tomlin's actions to be very serious if it is still considering taking away draft picks.
Tomlin's "embarrassing blunder" cost him a rare six-figure fine, and the team will nervously wait to see if that's the extent of the punishment.
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