The word “fine” is a simple four-letter word to NFL players. For one thing, a performance that is classified simply as “fine” probably isn’t good enough to win a game or to get a team into the playoffs. But it’s the word’s other meaning that strikes fear into the wallets of players (if not the players themselves).
National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear last season that he would not tolerate breaches of discipline and/or hazardous play on the football field. That’s why Goodell handed out a total of over $3 million in player fines last season – and also suspended numerous players for one or more games, which meant that they were not paid their salaries for those contests.
Every fine levied last season started at $7,875, which may not be a lot of money to someone with an eight- or nine-figure contract. But to a rookie who may only be making the league minimum at around $26,250 per game, any fine can bite into his bank account. And subsequent violations of the same rule usually send fine amounts up to $20,000 or more. But what about the teams themselves? Are some NFL squads fined more than others? Or are the fines essentially distributed evenly among the 30 teams in the league?
If each team were fined equally, then every club would pay about $100,000 in fines annually; however, only 12 teams exceeded the six-figure fine mark last season. At the other end of the spectrum, the so-called “bad boys” of the NFL, the Oakland Raiders, only recorded two fines a year ago. Furthermore, San Diego only had one player fined, while Kansas City was not fined at all in 2013. One other observation: even though 40% of the league’s teams made the postseason, only 10% of the ones on the most-fined list competed in the playoffs.
The ten teams listed below account for over half of the total fines issued by the commissioner’s office in 2013. Keep in mind that these aggregate fine totals do not take into account lost salaries from player suspensions.
10. Arizona Cardinals – $104,000
The Cards wouldn’t even be on this list if it weren’t for the concerted effort of defensive lineman Darnell Dockett. The Florida State product racked up three different fines in 2013 totaling $31,500. In Week 4, Dockett was flagged for a horse collar tackle against Tampa Bay, then followed it up two weeks later with a late hit on Frank Gore of the 49ers. Then he completed the fineable trifecta by stepping on the hand of St. Louis offensive tackle Chris Williams. Also in the Niners-Cardinals game, Arizona defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu kicked a San Francisco player to earn himself a fine and when 49ers guard Chris Boone took offense, Cardinal safety Tyrone Mathieu earned a fine by mixing it up with Niner running back Kendall Hunter and throwing him to the ground. All in a day’s work!
9. Dallas Cowboys – $107,625
The two infractions which stand out for Dallas are safety Barry Church’s fine for throwing a football into the stands in the opening week of the season, and wideout Dez Bryant‘s excessive celebration foul in Week 3. But the bulk of the amount came from three different infractions which each earned a $21,000 fine. Backup linebacker Lawrence Cameron laid a blindside hit on Washington’s David Amerson on a special teams play in Week 6. Then in Week 14, cornerback Orlando Scandrick slammed into defenseless Chicago wide receiver Brandon Marshall on a pass play. And in the final week of the season, running back DeMarco Murray was nabbed by the league’s new rule for crown-of-helmet violation when he lowered his head while running against Philadelphia.
8. Atlanta Falcons – $108,675
The Falcons eked out Dallas for eighth place on the list thanks largely to Atlanta safety William Moore, whose $53,550 in fines accounted for nearly half his team’s total. The fifth-year player from Missouri recorded two hits on defenseless receivers in 2013 – one in Week 4 against New England wide receiver Kembrell Thompkins, and another on Seattle wideout Golden Tate six weeks later. Bookended between those violations was a roughing the passer penalty against Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer in Week 8. Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora also roughed up Palmer in the same game and was likewise hit with a $15,750 fine. Two other roughing-the-passer fines were levied against Atlanta, one on safety Thomas DeCoud against the Pats and the other one linebacker Sean Weatherspoon in Week 13.
7. Houston Texans – $118,125
The Texans only notched half a dozen fineable infractions in 2013, but they made them all count. They began in preseason when cornerback Brandon Harris hit a defenseless player in the head. Fellow corner Kareem Jackson was slapped with a $42,000 fine after Week Two for hitting Tennessee wide receiver Kendall Wright when he was in a defenseless position. Then linebacker Whitney Mercilus, defensive end Jared Crick, and defensive end Antonio Smith all garnered roughing the passer penalties in Weeks 3, 7, and 12 respectively. Finally, Houston safety D.J. Swearinger was flagged for an excessive face mask against Jacksonville in Week 14, earning him a $7,875 fine.
6. Green Bay Packers – $120,000
Green Bay was the lone postseason entrant in 2013 to make the most-fined list. And like Arizona and Atlanta, the Packers had their own nominee for MFP (Most Fined Player) in linebacker Clay Matthews. The soup-shilling standout started off the season by hitting San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick late out of bounds on opening weekend. In Week 10, Matthews scored a roughing-the-passer foul against Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles. Finally, he was flagged for helmet-to-helmet contact three weeks later against Detroit. Also in that Lions game, Packers corner Tramon Williams earned a fine for making physical contact with an official. Green Bay also had an offensive player earn a fine for a hit on a defenseless player when tight end Jermichael Finley blocked Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs “unnecessarily” in the head and neck area.
5. New York Jets – $142,625
The Jets made the top five by virtue of the team’s “strong start” in the fines column, racking up $87,500 in fines after Week Two of the season. Two New York players received fines in the preseason, one being guard Vladimir Ducasse for a leg whip and the other being quarterback Matt Simms for excessive celebration. Then in the first week of the season, safety Dawan Landry was tagged with a fine for hitting Buccaneer’s Mike Williams while the wideout was in a defenseless position. And the next week in New England, Jets’ tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson punched Patriot cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and in the ensuing melee, guard Willie Colon made physical contact with an official and saw his bank account lightened by 35 grand.
4. Washington Redskins – $158,125
Washington followed the lead of the Jets by tabulating a fine total of $82,000 prior to Week 3. Quarterback Robert Griffin III started the ball rolling with an equipment violation in the preseason for wearing a T-shirt in warmups that read “Operation Patience,” which cost him ten Gs. In Washington’s season opener against Philadelphia, cornerback DeAngelo Hall horse-collared Eagles speedster DeSean Jackson for a $20,000 fine. And the following week against Green Bay, Redskins center Will Montgomery made an illegal “peelback block” and was hit with a $10,000 fine, while safety Brandon Meriweather was tagged with a $42,000 fine for a helmet-to-helmet hit. Hall also got a fine in Week 13 after punching New York Giants’ offensive lineman Will Beatty.
3. Tennessee Titans – $161,250
The number of 2013 fineable infractions is the same as the first three letters of the club’s name. Almost half of the Titans’ total came as a result of their play in Week Two against Houston. Center Robert turner was caught making a peelback block, running back Jackie Battle lowered his head while running and earned a crown-of-helmet violation and safety Bernard Pollard was jacked with a $42,000 fine for making a hit on defenseless Texans’ wide receiver Andre Johnson. Pollard also earned two other fines last season for hitting quarterbacks late – one in Week 9 against St. Louis signal-caller Kellen Clemens and another the following week on Jacksonville’s Chad Henne. Tennessee linebacker Moise Fokou was fined twice last year, for a face mask in Week 3 and a late hit in Week 13.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – $281,875
Note the difference between the third and second spots on this list. Most of that difference can be explained by a single fine levied against Bucs safety Dashon Goldson, whose helmet-to-helmet hit on New Orleans running back Darren Sproles in Week 2 allowed him the honor of paying a whopping $100,000 fine (for this? Really?). Goldson had already been fined $30,000 a week earlier for a hit on a defenseless player when he leveled Jets’ tight end Jeff Cumberland. Also in Week 1, Tampa linebacker Lavonte David hit a defenseless Geno Smith, while Buccaneers defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim committed an excessive face mask foul against another Jet player. And after Week 16, Goldson was told to pay another 60 grand for a helmet-to-helmet hit against Rams’ wideout Stedman Bailey.
1. Detroit Lions – $299,000
You might have guessed that the Lions would top this list given the existence of fine-generating defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. And it’s true that Suh did get slapped with three different fines: $7,875 for making a throat-slash gesture against Tampa Bay in Week 12, $31,500 for roughing Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden in Week 6, and a then-record $100,000 fine after Suh’s opening weekend low block into the knees of Minnesota center John Sullivan on an interception return. But Suh had plenty of help from his friends, as Detroit managed to record 17 different fineable infractions on the season (or about one each week). Suh’s linemate Nick Fairley also earned three different fines, while Joseph Fauria got hit with two different fines from his tight end spot. Definitely a team effort.