Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II passed along word yesterday that the team would not be forced to forfeit a draft pick as a result of the on-field incident last season that saw head coach Mike Tomlin step into the field of play during a kickoff return by Jacoby Jones against the Baltimore Ravens.
This was the only reasonable outcome of the whole debacle, which was turned into a far greater spectacle than it ever should have been. Evidently, the league has decided that a ‘mere’ $100,000 fine for Tomlin was sufficient punishment for the incident.
Anything else would have been simply absurd, if only because there’s no way to actually make a compelling argument for intent behind Tomlin’s behavior on the field.
Without establishment of intent, a punishment that infringes upon football operations, such as seizure of a draft pick, would be a hard sell to the public, and the league knew that the Steelers would fight it all the way.
You can look at every scrap of video evidence available of the play, through every available angle, and the best you could do is conjecture your own opinion regarding intentionality behind Tomlin’s behavior, and that’s what it all boils down to.
The reality is that players, coaches, and even the training staff frequently find themselves on the field while a play is running. It’s an impossible rule to force because it happens so often that it would be impractical to issue a penalty or punishment every time an ineligible person is on the field of play.
Tomlin’s explanation for his behavior was as good as any: when he saw himself on the stadium screen, he knew he was in trouble and that he had to get out of the way. Unless you’re a player, it’s rarely good to see yourself on the screen.
And besides, as ESPN’s Scott Brown wrote yesterday, perhaps the greatest repercussion from this incident for Tomlin will be the lingering mockery of the incident, which will surely be featured during every Ravens-Steelers game in Baltimore for as long as Tomlin remains the head coach.
Because he did put himself in a position to potentially interfere with a play, a fine could be justified, even though I am of the opinion that Jones would have been stopped by Cortez Allen regardless of Tomlin’s position.
The fact that the league elected to drag out this narrative all the way into late March when the resolution was—or at least should have been—obvious all along, on the other hand, was less than practical.
Had the league penalized the organization by seizing a draft pick, the Steelers would have appealed. How long might that appeals process take? What if the situation wasn’t resolved by the time the draft rolled around, unlikely as that might be? The whole incident could have been handled better by the league, but at least it’s now finally in the past, with the proper resolution in hand.