Are NFL Fines A Deterrent?
Green Bay Packers linebacker Frank Zombo was fined $7,500 this week for an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit on Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. By NFL standards, a $7,500 fine is small. But if you are an undrafted free agent like Zombo, the fine is significant.
Frank Zombo’s base salary this season is $320,000. As Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee points out, Zombo’s fine will “cost him nearly 40 percent” of his $18,823.53 paycheck this week.
“It’s going to hurt. Especially being a free agent, I don’t really have a whole lot of money. When they fine me like that, it definitely hurts,” Zombo told reporters on Thursday.
The young linebacker out of Central Michigan was not detered by the fine, however, and neither were his coaches. In fact, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was the first to defend the hit.
“What do you tell your player on that particular play? He is on a pass rush, he spins inside and he spins into the quarterback, and he goes helmet-to-helmet just like the rule calls. Technically they are correct in throwing the flag there, but he is being held. He is being pulled from behind. I’m just a big believer in, ‘OK, these are the rules, let’s train our players this way. Let’s play within the rules.’ And that’s what we’ll continue to do, but when you have certain situations like that, you’ve just got to keep playing through those. His helmet hit the quarterback’s helmet, that’s a penalty. But Frank really couldn’t do anything about it.”
Zombo will not appeal the fine, and outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene told Zombo he would help him out.
“I’m going to take it on the chin and take it like a man. Coach Greene said he’d help me out, but I don’t know if I’m going to hold him to that.”
Football truly is a game of inches. On Monday night, it was a matter of inches that made made Zombo’s hit illegal and negated an athletic Nick Barnett interception.
“My coaches, I didn’t get one bit of negative feedback from that hit whatsoever. They’re real supportive,” Zombo said. “I’m just being aggressive, I’m being a football player. I’m getting to the quarterback, doing what I’m coached to do. I’m coming off a block, being held, being pushed, it’s kind of hard to judge, maybe three inches? I hit three inches lower, I’m not getting a flag. But I’m going to learn from it, it’s a good learning experience and I’m going to go from there.”
The fine levied by the NFL will hurt Zombo off the field, but will result in no change on the field. Which begs the question: Are NFL fines really a deterrent? I tend to think not. The only thing that will be affected is Frank Zombo’s wallet.
The NFL fines players for helmet-to-helmet hits in order to make the game safer, but Zombo’s did not intend to hurt anyone. In fact, Zombo’s ability to react, rather than think, is part of the reason he went from a long-shot in training camp to a starter in week 3. The 23-year-old linebacker from Sterling Heights, Michigan will continue to react and make plays for the Packers defense. He just hopes his hits results in quarterback sacks, not fines.