By Jeff Zrebiec and Aaron Wilson The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE — Ravens safety Ed Reed said that he was grateful that his one-game suspension for repeated violations of the rule prohibiting hits to the head and neck area of defenseless players was lifted Tuesday after his appeal.
As a result, Reed will be on the field Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. However Reed was assessed a $50,000 fine for his hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in the third quarter of the Ravens 13-10 victory.
Reed defended his style of play, acknowledged that there is a “fine line” between protecting players and not taking away from the game and said the new rules and fines are creating a “flag football thing.”
“The rules of the game have changed a whole lot since I got in the league,” said Reed after distributing turkeys to families of Booker T. Washington Middle School along with teammates Cary Williams and Anquan Boldin. “Over my career, I’ve never been that guy. I don’t plan on being that guy. It’s a shame it even came to this point … being that I’ve been on the other side of hits that have been illegal toward me. I’ve got a lot of respect for that organization, the Steelers, and the other 30 teams in the league. I never played the game that way.”
Reed, who the NFL cited for three violations of the rules designed to protect the safety of players including two this year, was originally suspended for one game by the NFL on Monday, and that would have resulted in a loss of a game check worth $423,529.
However, he filed an appeal, which was heard Tuesday morning by Ted Cottrell, a former NFL defensive coordinator who was appointed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association to decide appeals of on-field player discipline. As part of the morning hearing, Cottrell spoke to Reed, team president Dick Cass and Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome before announcing the decision. Appeals on discipline matters are rarely successful so Cottrell’s ruling came as somewhat of a surprise.
“I didn’t know what to expect of it,” Reed said. “A lot needs to be done. It’s not just me on the end of this, it’s a lot of guys across the league. We are the ones who play the game. This is not over between myself or the league. It’s a lot that needs to be done because it is about safety, it is about protecting the players. It’s something that us as players need to police as well. At the same time, we grew up watching the game be played a certain way and playing it a certain way. It is tackle football. It is a contact sport and a brutal one, a violent one at that.”
In a letter to Reed in which he revealed his decision, Cottrell said, “I have determined that your actions were egregious and warrant significant discipline. However, I do not believe that your actions were so egregious as to subject you to a one-game suspension without pay. Player safety is the league’s primary concern in the formation of playing rules and all players are expected to adhere to those rules or face disciplinary action. I hope in the future you will focus on ensuring that your play conforms to the rules.”
Reed, who has dealt with neck, shoulder and hip issues and is currently playing with a slightly torn labrum in his shoulder, said that he’s had concussions before and they are essentially unpreventable in such a violent sport.
“If you want to stop it, stop the game,” he said. “Like people say, it’s starting to be a flag football thing. I have a flag football tournament. We can make this a big thing if we want. Everybody can come get in my league. It really needs to be discussed for a fine to come down like that so harshly for that hit over my career and for them to go back to 2010 for me scratching (New Orleans Saints quarterback) Drew Brees on the head, even the one that happened in Week Two with (Philadelphia Eagles quarterback) Michael Vick. C’mon man, I’m going for the ball. It’s a contact sport. It’s a lot that needs to be done with it, man. I’m just glad I can play with my teammates. I’m not happy with the 50 grand, but what can you do?”
Reed was flagged for unnecessary roughness and fined $21,000 for striking New England Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch in the head and neck area in Week 3 this season. He was also penalized for roughing the passer and fined $10,000 for unnecessarily striking Brees up high in December of 2010.
Before winning the appeal, the eight-time Pro-Bowl selection was set to become just the second player this season to get suspended for violating rules designed to protect the safety of players. Denver Broncos linebacker Joe Mays got a one-game ban for an illegal hit on Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub on Sept. 23.
“I think (head coach John Harbaugh) and his coaches do an excellent job of teaching the right, safe and legal way to play football, and we believe Ed clearly tries to play within the rules on every down,” Newsome said in a statement released by the team.
Reed’s teammates also applauded Cottrell’s decision. During the day, several Ravens went to their Twitter account with the message, “Free Ed Reed.”
“I think it was only right. Ed’s not one of those guys,” Boldin said. “He’s never been that type of guy to go out and intentionally hurt somebody or be malicious on the field. Over his career, he’s played clean football. I think that’s why they overturned the ruling. You can’t make an example of a guy who’s played the game the way he has: hard-nosed, clean, honest. He’s one of the leaders at the safety position. I don’t think you can make an example of a guy like that.”