In two days, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald will play in a regular-season game two weeks after swinging helmets in a joint practice because, under current rules, the NFL can’t do anything about it.
That could change.
Mark Maske of the Washington Post reports that the league office will “absolutely” consider taking jurisdiction over discipline of players who engage in misconduct during joint practices. The league would implement the same system currently used for on-field discipline during games.
An unnamed source tells Maske that the issue is “already on the winter agenda,” a reference to the annual wave of offseason rule changes.
The potential change is indeed sparked by Donald’s behavior. The Rams handled the matter internally, and they’ve refused to disclose the punishment. (A moderately stern talking-to is a safe bet, possibly with the partial wag of a finger.)
It’s the right move, but it won’t be easy. The NFL Players Association undoubtedly will regard any such change as a mandatory subject of collective bargaining. While the NFLPA should want to ensure that its members are properly protected against misdeeds that go unpunished (and thus undeterred), the union can do exactly what the league would do in a situation like this — fold their arms and say, “What’s in it for us?”
Hopefully, that won’t happen in this case. Or maybe the league can find some other win-win that can be dangled as the quid pro quo for giving the league the ability to do what should have been done after Donald swung helmets on August 25.
Then again, if Donald knew he would potentially be suspended for doing it, maybe he wouldn’t have done it. That makes it all the more critical for the NFL and NFLPA to agree to this much-needed change.