NFL news: Around the league in 32 plays

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Happy Red Friday Addicts.

Another packed week of NFL news and rumors as we continue down the home stretch to the playoffs.  There are plenty of big stories to follow right now.  Enough so that I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, so if you think a story is missing, let me know.  After going over the feedback from last week, it was pretty clear that a vast majority of you liked the new “Lead Story” feature.  It has been my goal with this weekly article to provide Chiefs fans with a place where they can keep up to date with what is going on around the league without having to read through 31 other websites.  So for those of you that liked it, I will be continuing.  For those that don’t…deal with it.

More from Kansas City Chiefs Free Agency

Most of the NFL news for this week revolves around the trainer’s table.  The injury bug is in full effect, and we are seeing some key players getting banged up at a bad time.  Unfortunately, the Chiefs have not been immune to that (and I will cover that later).  But this also plays into the Lead Story for this week.  The NFL has had plenty of problems with concussions over the recent years.  Honestly, I could justifiably make this the Lead Story just about any week, but there were some major events that made this unquestionably the top story.

Lead Story:  Concussions are still the most difficult problem to tackle for the NFL.

The NFL came down this past weekend with a ruling that there was no individual at fault for the missed concussion with Rams quarterback Case Keenum.  That ruling has sparked an outrage across the internet, and rightfully so.  That includes NFLPA President, Eric Winston, who rebuked the league for not handing out a punishment to the Rams organization.  However, that doesn’t mean the NFL is totally wrong in their assessment.  Yes, I know where you’re going to go with that…

Case Keenum is now at the forefront of the NFL concussion conversation. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

  • “What about Jeff Fisher?!”  Well, Fisher sent out his trainer to check on Keenum while he continued to manage the other 44 players he had to account for in the game.  While it could be argued that special consideration should be made for a quarterback, the truth is that until the trainers come back with a diagnosis, there isn’t much he could do.
  • “Well, what about the trainer?”  Never actually even made it out to Keenum as the refs sent him off the field once Keenum was back on his feet.  That trainer actually has no choice but to leave the field when directed by the officials.  It would have been a penalty otherwise because Case Keenum was neither down on the field or walking towards the sidelines.
  • “Ok then, gotta put the blame on the refs.”  That would make sense, until you re-watch the tape.  The last thing the head official sees of Keenum is that he is being helped to his feet by his offensive linemen.  The official is busy going over the ruling of the play due to a penalty while Keenum is staggering around.  He doesn’t see any of it.
  • “Umm, the linemen?”  Well, sure.  It’s their job to protect him, but if Case Keenum tells his linemen that he’s “good to go”, then can you really blame them for listening?  They’re in the middle of a game.  It’s tough to take yourself outside of that in the heat of the moment.
  • “But, Case himself?”  The guy’s got a concussion.  He isn’t thinking straight.  He naturally goes into what he knows, which is continuing the game.  He’s been conditioned to do that, and when his thinking is clouded, his brain automatically reverts to that.

Now, that isn’t to say that none of these guys are blame free.  Everyone involved could have done more to prevent this.  In fact, everyone SHOULD have done more and the NFL is already taking that into consideration.  However, it is a difficult situation, and there is no obvious person at fault.  So it’s completely unfair to punish any individual, or entity, in this case because there is equal share of the blame for the staff, league officials, and players themselves.  It highlights some major issues about the need for players to be able to stop the game.  Fortunately, there is a big name NFL player who is taking that into consideration: Ben Roethlisberger.

This past weekend, Big Ben took himself out of a two point game in the fourth quarter because he believed he might have had a concussion.  That is huge.  Of course, Roethlisberger has the job security to make that decision whereas Case Keenum probably doesn’t.  However, Roethlisberger also has a “tough guy” reputation that can change the perception on players taking themselves out.  If a guy known for playing through injuries can take precautions in that situation, anybody can.

We can expect this to continue being a major headline this offseason.  Will Smith’s new movie “Concussion” is set to come out on Christmas Day, which puts this subject back into the mainstream just ahead of the end of the season.  But there is a more important part of this puzzle that many fans probably missed.  This past offseason, the NFL reached a settlement in their long-standing concussion civil suit.  The settlement met with some resistance, but was overall widely accepted by the plaintiffs.  There is potential for it to be overturned on appeal, but many legal analysts are of the opinion that Judge Brody covered the bases by having the settlement re-done on two separate occasions.  However, the deal did put the weight of preventing future concussions on the NFL, and it can be expected that the league will seek to avoid future lawsuits as well as the negative publicity that comes with it.  They have already gotten off to a start by investing with Under Armour and General Electric in trying to improve equipment for preventing concussions.

I know some will argue that domestic violence and substance abuse are far more pressing issues.  You are correct in that.  However, those issues are much more easily solved…just not in a manner that is convenient to the NFL and its investments.  The concussion issue is the most difficult for the NFL to handle because it strikes at the very core of the game itself.  Football is a violent sport.  Every play involves the violent collision of abnormally sized humans, all of them armored.  The only sure way to eliminate concussions is to eliminate contact, but that is essentially eliminating the game itself.  Obviously, that is not an option to the owners, league officials, players, or fans.

Expect to hear a lot about new concussion protocols this offseason.

Next: Around the rest of the league