The offense and the punishment here are minor and don’t much matter, but the excuse is very much indicative of how things work in the modern NFL.
Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, Harbaugh will be fined $50,000, and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti will be docked $100,000. In a statement, the Ravens indicated the issue was prohibited contact during passing drills—and tried to put the blame for the infraction on the players (emphasis mine):
RAVENS STATEMENTS REGARDING THE NFL RULING
GENERAL MANAGER AND EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OZZIE NEWSOME:
“We are vigilant about practicing within the Collective Bargaining Rules. I am. John [Harbaugh] and his assistants are. I attend every practice and then watch the practices again on video. I see how the coaching staff teaches, corrects and addresses issues immediately on the field. In meetings, I have watched John’s presentation to his players and assistants regarding how to properly practice and the pace of these sessions. We have players competing, including rookies and those fighting to make our team. Sometimes breaking old practice habits of these players, especially rookies, takes more repetitions. We’ll continue to be vigilant about this.”
HEAD COACH JOHN HARBAUGH:
“We take very seriously reading, understanding, abiding by and playing by the rules. Our coaches, staff and players have worked extremely hard to run the offseason program according to all the Collective Bargaining Agreement rules. Our team has been singled out for pass coverage contact during the early part of OTAs. We have heavily emphasized these CBA pass coverage rules in meetings, and coached them diligently on the practice field. It has also been our priority to include our veteran players, along with new Ravens who have practiced and played for other teams, in the process and use their input and ideas. Even with consistent and repeated teaching, these rules pose considerable adjustments for the young players. We have tried very hard to eliminate contact in pass coverage during OTAs, even so far as to pull players out of practice who struggle with these adjustments. I am confident we have done everything within our power and ability to practice within the rules, and we will continue to focus on preparing, teaching and practicing the right way.”
This is bullshit. The CBA has clear work rules for the offseason program, and a clear process for determining any violations of those work rules. Both in Article 21 and in Appendix G, the CBA states that “contact work” like “bump-and-run” is “expressly prohibited in all offseason workouts.” No pads can be worn except for helmets and protective knee and elbow pads. Appendix G also says “[t]he NFL will monitor all Clubs during the offseason to ensure player safety and adherence to live contact guidelines.” Article 21 requires teams to film their offseason program workouts, and both the NFL and the NFLPA can each designate a representative to investigate any alleged violations, which can include a review of the film.
Look, it’s football, and football players want to do football things, even in June, when they’re not allowed to do most of those things. OTAs are for getting players and coaches onto the field months before anything actually matters, mostly to get to run through some playbook basics and to do various drills that emphasize technique. But I’ve covered enough OTAs to know that when a guy or group of guys starts to get a little rough with someone, it’s pretty standard for the team to tell them to chill. The Ravens were similarly punished two years ago for doing a non-contact punt protection drill with pads during a rookie minicamp—and initially claimed they didn’t know rookie minicamp had the same rules as OTAs. They also had to cancel a week of offseason workouts in 2010 (under the terms of a previous CBA) for breaking what the Baltimore Sun described as “the rules concerning the intensity and tempo of drills conducted at their offseason camps as well as the length of time spent by players at the team’s facility.”* Now they want us to believe they are being punished because a bunch of try-hard rookies just couldn’t keep their hands off each other even after being shown exactly what to do. Apparently no other team has this problem. What are the odds!
The Ravens know the rookies—especially the undrafted ones—are less likely to make a fuss about the team’s shifty explanation here because of their precarious roster status. But that’s the modern NFL for you: When in doubt, blame the help.
* This post was updated to add a reference to the Ravens’ 2010 infraction.