As NFL fines mount, Ravens players join chorus of frustration with how league determines punishment

Patrick Ricard’s wallet could soon be $21,694 lighter.

That’s the amount the Ravens’ veteran fullback was fined for unnecessary roughness two weeks ago for what looked to be a routine block on Cardinals middle linebacker Kyzir White as he helped clear the way up the middle for a 5-yard run by Gus Edwards near the Arizona goal line in the second quarter.

It’s also what he says is “the cost of doing business” in the NFL these days, though he isn’t happy about it.

“I’m trying to make my block. We’re on the 5-yard line,” Ricard said Sunday after the Ravens’ win over the Seahawks. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that my guy doesn’t make the play and I drive him backward. If my head gets involved, it gets involved.”

Ricard said he is appealing the fine. His case will be assigned to one of the league’s two appeals officers, former linebacker Derrick Brooks or former wide receiver James Thrash, who will hear both sides before rendering a final ruling.

He is not the only Ravens player to have been fined this season. Baltimore is tied with the Buffalo Bills for the second-most fines stemming from on-field actions in the league with 13. The Pittsburgh Steelers have the most with 19. And Baltimore’s list doesn’t include the $10,000 uniform violation receiver Rashod Bateman said he received for wearing customized cleats that featured a Batman logo along with his surname on the side of the shoe.

“It was crazy,” Bateman said. “I had no idea. It’s kind of lame, but it is what it is.”

On Wednesday, NFL Players Association president and former Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter said there’s “a growing amount of frustration from players and fans around how on-field fines are implemented.”

“If eliminating dangerous play is the overall goal, then the current system we have is not fully achieving it,” Tretter wrote in an article published on the NFLPA’s website.

To that end, Bateman also got hit with a $16,391 fine for unnecessary roughness against Bengals cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt during a Week 2 game in Cincinnati. Bateman was flagged for an illegal blindside block on the fourth-quarter play, though only six of the fines levied on Baltimore players this season occurred on plays in which a penalty was called.

“I don’t plan on getting any more [fines], but the NFL is getting kinda soft,” Bateman said. “Never know what you’re gonna get fined for.”

Some have been obvious fines in waiting. For example, Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Tennessee Titans wide receiver Chris Moore during their Week 6 game in London.

That was an expensive weekend for his teammates and other players around the league, with a season-high 36 fines handed out across the NFL. Five of them went to four Ravens players, including two issued to Odell Beckham Jr. The receiver got into a tussle with Titans defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons during and after the game as well, with Beckham saying Simmons had gone after fellow receiver Zay Flowers’ legs at the end of one particular play.

“I just didn’t like that. I’m protective,” Beckham said afterward. “This is my guy. This is my little bro. Love him to death. I’m always gonna have his back, period. If that leads me into trouble then it is what it is.”

So far, Beckham and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike have a team-high three fines apiece this season. One of Madubuike’s also came in London with a $16,391 fine handed out for unnecessary roughness late in the third quarter, though there was no penalty on the play. Fellow defensive tackle Michael Pierce was clipped for the same amount for his roughing the passer penalty on quarterback Ryan Tannehill earlier in the third.

The other Baltimore player fined in the game was left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who was hit for $16,391 for a hard collision with Simmons. Like Ricard, he is appealing the fine and awaiting word from the league.

In all, 10 Ravens have racked up $229,937 in fines, with Beckham’s two for $21,844 the stiffest single penalty doled out.

“There’s definitely frustration,” Stanley said. “I think guys think the game’s gotten a little soft in that regard. But we just have to be compliant with the rules at hand and try our best. But we’re not gonna stop playing Raven football, and we’re just gonna play physical.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said on occasion he will call the league because his players do talk about the fines they’ve been issued.

“We’re coaching these things, so we want to understand how the league views it,” he said. “[We] also understand that there is a process that is in place to take a look at that, so it’s not just one-sided. It’s not like the NCAA, where there’s just a judge, jury and executioner. It’s the NFL, and there’s a Players Association that has an opportunity to create some fairness, which is good; that’s the way it should be. So, they’ll challenge those fines, and a decision will be made, and then you move forward; that’s just how it works. That’s collective bargaining, and it actually works out really well.”

Though the NFL declined to comment when contacted by The Baltimore Sun, their operations site notes that there have been 236 fines issued this season on 18,745 plays, or 1.26% of all plays.

Tretter acknowledged that the union could do a better job of informing players of their rights, noting that 12% of the approximately 460 fines were not appealed last season. For example, first-time “offenders” can watch a five-minute instructional video at the end of every season for an automatic 25% reduction in the on-field fine amount.

Once a player is fined, or has lost an appeal, the amount is withheld from their next game check. Fines are then collected and donated to the Washington-based Professional Athletes Foundation, which provides support to athletes and former players in a variety of ways including mental, physical and financial well-being, as well as the NFL Foundation, which, as the league puts it, “further supports the health, safety and wellness of athletes across all levels of the sport.” Since 2011, about $4 million a year has been generated, according to the NFL.

Still, Ricard’s fine in particular drew the ire of several current and former players, including J.J. Watt.

“This is STEALING money from guys,” tweeted Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year who played for the Houston Texans and Cardinals. “These absurd fines for routine football plays have got to stop. Fines for intentfully malicious plays? Absolutely. Taking $21,694 from a guy for this?! What are we doing. This is out of control.”

Ricard concurs, of course.

“I think it’s pretty ridiculous, to be honest, especially the amount they’re fining me,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for seven years at the highest level at my position. I’ve never been fined for it before. For that to get fined, it’s hard to believe.”


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