If you thought the old days of tough guy football were long and gone, this season proved you wrong.
Take the Week 6 game against the Carolina Panthers when Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict took an opponent’s ankle, twisted it hard and tried to break it with his bare hands -- twice, to two different players. Burfict was fined $25,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct, the cherry on top of a rap sheet the NFL started writing in 2013 when he was fined $10,000 for punching Packers tight end Ryan Taylor in the balls.
Yet what's maybe more remarkable than the fines for rough play is that there are 11 players that were fined more than Burfict this season, many for far less violent behavior. Go to the top of that list, and you'll find a guy who doesn't play like Burfict or Ndamukong Suh, a player who will in fact be one of the keys to his team's offensive strategy in this weekend's Super Bowl.
No NFL player has been fined more this year than Marshawn Lynch, the beastly Seattle running back who leads the NFL playoffs in running yards and led the league in rushing touchdowns during the season. Lynch has the Seahawks' back in the Super Bowl for the second time in as many years, and he can use the extra game check because he’s already been rung up for $131,050 in fines, mostly for the non-violent act of not talking to reporters after games.
Football players have been fined more than $2 million by the NFL so far this season for bad behavior on the field. If you include drug-related fines and suspensions, 228 players have been hit with a bill for $25 million, according to the sports analytics site spotrac.com.
Every year the NFL distributes its fine schedule and the 2014 edition lists 18 infractions from fighting ($27,562) to throwing a football into the stands ($5,512). Fines are larger for repeat offenders and range from very specific infractions like spearing to the open-ended unsportsmanlike conduct. Penalties are reviewed by the NFL operations department and players are notified of their fine in writing, which they can appeal.
Of the 10 most penalized teams in the NFL, four — Indianapolis, Arizona, Baltimore, and Denver — qualified for the playoffs. Of the 10 least penalized teams, only two — Pittsburgh and Green Bay — made the postseason, indicating there is no scientific trend between bad behavior and success.
The two teams playing in the Super Bowl — Seattle and New England — were around the middle of the pack in fines with an average of $172,000.
The league says the money it collects — it’s automatically subtracted from the players’ paychecks — is donated through the NFL Foundation to support a number of charities.
Here are this year’s 12 most charitable NFL players:
1. Lynch is on the hook for $131,050.00 for three infractions. In November, he was slapped with a $100,000 fine for not talking to the media enough over the last two seasons. He was also fined $31,000 for grabbing his crotch after a touchdown on Christmas Day and again in the NFC Championship Game. He’s playing in the Super Bowl on February 1 and the NFL has warned the Seahawks if he grabs himself again, they’re going to lose yards.
2. Detroit wrecking machine Ndamukong Suh was fined $70,000 in Week 17 for stepping on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a relatively light charge compared to his $164,000 stomp in 2011 against Green Bay. One of the best defensive tackles in the league, Suh has been named to the Pro Bowl three times.
3. Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw flips Toyotas with his bare hands. He’s also very good at flipping quarterbacks, and he’s proven exceedingly good at getting called for roughing the passer. In 2014, he was whistled for three of those, and it cost him $46,537. Two of the three put Ben Roethlisberger on his back with licks Big Ben felt for three days after the fact. The Ravens beat Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs before losing a wild one to the Patriots.
4. Roughing the passer fines accounted for more than $513,000 this year, by far and away the most of any penalty (unsportsmanlike conduct was second with $162,000). Detroit safety James Ihedigbo rang up more than a third of his $36,537 roughing Jets QB Geno Smith. The other 20 grand he donated came off a Week 8 late hit against Atlanta and Week 10 face mask against Miami.
5. Another roughing the passer ace is Minnesota defensive tackle Linval Joseph, whose nasty takedown of Rodgers in November cost him $20,000. Joseph was charged $16,537 for the same offense three weeks earlier against Washington and lost a total of $36,537 for the year in roughing calls. Joseph’s naughty season literally started off with a bang: He was shot in a nightclub after a preseason game.
6. Until 2005, it was perfectly legal to grab an opponent by his neck and slam him to the turf. But the play, known as a horse collar tackle, caused a load of injuries and is now outlawed by the NFL. Packers linebacker Sam Barrington apparently did not get the memo as he concluded a violent two-week stretch this year that included $33,074 in fines, half of which were levied for driving a Bills player to the ground with a Week 15 horse collar tackle.
7. On an interception return, the quarterback becomes a delicious target for defenders to throw a block at. Everybody wants a free shot. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who gets paid handsomely to destroy QBs, got a chance at Seattle’s Russell Wilson in the NFC Championship Game that was too good to pass up. Matthews blighted him with a blindside block that cost him $22,050. Earlier in the season, Matthews was billed $10,000 for wearing the wrong color cleats, bringing his fine total to $32,050 for the year.
8. Chase Coffman, a Titans tight end, was charged $30,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct in Week 10. More specifically, he ran over an opposing coach to the ground on the Baltimore sideline.
9. In a Monday Night Football game in 2002, Terrell Owens pulled out a Sharpie, signed his name on the ball he just caught for a touchdown and gave it to a friend in the stands. Owens was not fined for the infamous celebration. How times have changed. In a 2014 preseason game, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham dunked the ball over the goalpost and he was fined $30,000 for an excessive celebration.
10. The Indianapolis Colts led the league with $3.831 million in fines this season and defensive lineman Eric Walden contributed to that with a $27,652 fine he was issued when he put a hand on an official during a scrap with an opposing player. Touching officials is a big-time no-no in the NFL.
11. But that didn’t stop Chargers wide receiver Seji Ajirotutu, who was slapped with an automatic $27,562 fine in Week 7 for making contact with an official.
12. And finally, no infraction was more egregious than Burfict going to work on Panthers Cam Newton and Greg Olsen. The Bengals linebacker was fined $25,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct when he tried to break their ankles with his bare hands.