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MIRZA ZUKIC: Goodell, NFL should leave Steelers' draft picks alone

by on December 05, 2013 10:59 AM

The NFL got it wrong.

Although the matter won’t be settled until the NFL draft next spring, the fact the league is even considering taking draft picks away from the Pittsburgh Steelers for Mike Tomlin’s now-famous misstep last week in Baltimore is ludicrous.

Whether Tomlin’s blunder was intentional or not, we’ll never know. He spent more than half of his weekly press conference Tuesday trying to convince us it wasn’t. He profusely apologized for interfering with a kickoff return — a play that should have drawn a penalty — in last week’s 22-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

If you know anything about the guy, Tomlin’s lengthy and transparent address of the issue was refreshing and genuine.

He answered as many questions as it would take to clarify his actions. He called his bugaboo “embarrassing, inexcusable and illegal,” among other things. But intentional, it was not, he said.

Once the integrity of the sport came into question over the weekend, Tomlin thought it was time to speak up. Not to minimize the punishment that he knew was coming, but to protect the integrity of the game as he said several times during Tuesday’s press conference.

In his own words, Tomlin “took his medicine.” He accepted total and full responsibility. Although, really, what choice did he have? To say, It wasn’t me?

But nonetheless, it was refreshing at a time when every pro athlete or coach’s apology includes some version of “if I offended anyone” or a deflection of blame. Tomlin grabbed the situation by the horns and accepted the consequences.

And on Wednesday, he accepted a $100,000 fine the league handed down and vowed to leave the matter in the past, though the story isn’t likely to go away until the NFL draft.

I believed Tomlin after the press conference.

He said the thought never crossed his mind that his misstep could be perceived as intentional.

Maybe that makes him sheltered from the rest of the world, not all that far-fetched considering the insane hours NFL coaches work. Maybe it means he needs to open up his horizons. Maybe it even means he’s out of touch with reality.

But I don’t think he tried to gain a competitive advantage by getting in Jacoby Jones’ way on a kickoff return. The hefty fine, the second-largest ever given to an NFL coach, says the league clearly thinks otherwise.

I’ve watched the video of the play 20-plus times since the game, and it seems likely to me that Steelers defensive back Cortez Allen would have caught up to Jones anyway.

Still, I have no problem with the fine the NFL gave Tomlin. I wouldn’t have batted an eye over a suspension.

But including the entire franchise in the mishap by threatening to take away draft picks in April’s draft is suggesting the franchise as a whole was in cahoots with Tomlin. It suggests, at least to an extent, that the team planned this with the seventh-year coach, that this was a premeditated plan.

When New York Jets’ strength coach Sal Alosi stuck out his knee and tripped a Miami Dolphins player on a punt return, the Jets suspended him and fined him $25,000, and the NFL fined the Jets $100,000.

But the Jets didn’t lose a draft pick. And their coach actually tripped a player. Tomlin came close, but he didn’t. Tomlin never made contact with Jones.

So tell me again, why should the Steelers lose a draft pick?



Mirza Zukic is in his third season covering the Steelers for The Indiana Gazette. Email: Twitter: @MirzaZuka.

Mirza Zukic is a sports writer that primarily covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and is the Gazette's track and field beat writer.
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