The NFL imposed huge fines on three players Tuesday for dangerous and flagrant hits in last weekend's games and warned that, starting with this weekend's contests, violent conduct will be cause for suspension.
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was docked $75,000, and New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather and Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson each were fined $50,000 by the league.
Players previously were fined or ejected for illegal hits, but after the series of recent flagrant tackles, several resulting in concussions, the NFL ramped up the punishment.
Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, indicated that suspensions could start immediately -- involving play from last weekend's games -- but NFL spokesman Greg Aiello later said the league wanted to give teams fair warning and would Wednesday send a memo outlining the changes.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap took a vicious hit from Meriweather on Sunday and called it "one of those hits that shouldn't happen." Robinson and Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson were knocked out of their game after a frightening collision in which the Falcons' cornerback launched himself head first to make a tackle. Both sustained concussions.
Harrison was punished for his hit on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. Harrison's hit on Browns wide receiver Joshua Cribbs didn't figure in the fine, although it also caused a concussion; the league said Monday it was permissible.
Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, called the $75,000 fine "staggering" and said it would be appealed. He emphasized that neither play drew a penalty.
"I've talked to James, and he's very upset," Parise said. "He's quite confused about how to play football."
Harrison later told Fox Sports Radio that he's considered retirement because of the fine.
"I'm going to sit down and have a serious conversation with my coach tomorrow and see if I can actually play by NFL rules and still be effective," Harrison said on "Into The Night with Tony Bruno" with guest host Jody McDonald. "If not, I may have to give up playing football."
The league noted Harrison is a repeat offender -- he was fined $5,000 for unnecessary roughness during the Steelers' Sept. 19 victory over the Tennessee Titans -- and Massaquoi's agent, Brian Ayrault, didn't believe the league was tough enough on Harrison.
"Harrison has made $20 million over the past three years, and they only fined him $75,000?" Ayrault said. "To me, that's not going to be a deterrent. The Browns are probably going to be without a starter this week. I don't think that fine is a deterrent or fair to competitive balance.
"The punishment did not fit the crime."
Robinson said he, too, will appeal.
"I am disappointed by the NFL's ruling," Robinson said in a statement released by his agent. "I recognize the goal is to protect all players -- from the Pee Wee level on up -- however, this was a bang-bang hit situation where I did not lead with my helmet, and therefore I will appeal. Although it was a violent hit, my hit did not violate the NFL's rules, and I was playing the game the way I always have. I am not a dirty player and have never been characterized as one."
Harrison and Meriweather will lose the equivalent of nearly two game checks in the fines. Harrison makes $44,411.76 in base salary per game, and Meriweather receives $32,352.94. Robinson is paid $294,117.65 per week in base salary, so the $50,000 fine is just one-sixth of a game check for him.
Fines are taken out of a player's base salary. Bonuses aren't touched.
In letters to the three players, Anderson said: "Future offenses will result in an escalation of fines up to and including suspension."
Anderson appeared on NFL Network's "NFL Total Access" after the announcement Tuesday and said the league wouldn't look at hits before Week 6 to impose fines retroactively. However, the higher price of breaking the rules should serve as a message to other heavy hitters.
"We hope we are sending a message, emphatically, that going forward, hits to the head that are illegal ... will be dealt with at a higher level," Anderson said. "Players and coaches need to know that accountability is elevated, and we're not going back. ...
"What we're trying to say, very clearly, going forward is that everyone should be on notice. The line should be clear. If you go over that line, you should anticipate that elevated discipline, up to and including suspensions, and in flagrant and egregious cases, multiple-game suspensions will be on the table."
Anderson, who played three years at Stanford University, also emphasized the league's concern for making the game safe for its players and setting an example for the youth, high school and college football teams. He said players in the modern NFL are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before, and the league must adapt.
"Time has changed, and our emphasis has changed," he said.
Anderson acknowledged that Robinson's hit "was one of a bang-bang play, but, nevertheless, under the rules it is illegal." Meriweather's hit, Anderson said, "very frankly, (there's) no place for that in the NFL. A gratuitous shot, and some players internally here, we would term that, very frankly, a cheap shot."
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith wouldn't directly answer whether or not the league consulted with the union before toughening up the penalties, saying simply that he talked to Commissioner Roger Goodell every day.
"We are going to look at this issue along with the league," Smith said when contacted in St. Paul, Minn. "I am for anything that keeps our players safer. But at the same time, I don't look at everything in a simple microcosm."
"I think it is the proper initiative that the NFL has," Tomlin said before the fines were announced. "I think we need to safeguard the men that play this game to the best of our abilities and make it as safe as we can.
"We've used words like flagrant and egregious and lowering the strike zone, and those are words you use as a coach to make sure you're playing within the rules."
Browns president Mike Holmgren said it was important to have game video reviewed by officials who are familiar with the nuances of tackling.
"I think most of the time you can look at a play as a coach and say, 'You know what? That didn't have to happen,'" said Holmgren, the former Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers coach. "And then sometimes you look at a play and say, 'Unavoidable. It was just one of those things.'
"I don't know if they are going to make that distinction yet, and I think it's a very important distinction."
Texans offensive tackle Eric Winston -- who was Meriweather's teammate at the University of Miami and Robinson's from 2006 through last season in Houston -- saw dissimilarities in the tackles involving those players.
"I love Brandon to death, but that was a flagrant foul. That's what the league is talking about," Winston said. "Dunta's hit, that wasn't even with the helmet. That was just a collision."
Winston said the difference was that Meriweather launched himself at Heap.
"If we get fined, we get fined," Edwards said. "But the suspension stuff? That's taking it a little too far. I mean, it is football. We all signed up to play this game. Things happen. You can't alter the way you play the game. Sometimes that's how you get touchdowns."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.