The NFL delivered its message about heavier punishment for illegal hits, including suspensions, directly to the 32 teams with a video spelling out what players should avoid.
Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, tells players "you are on notice" in the video, stressing the league's commitment to enforcing punishment for aggressive hits to the head and neck area.
"You must know that player safety is our highest priority," Anderson says in the video, which the league released to all teams Wednesday and required coaches to show their players. "We've said publicly, and we will repeat to all of you, we will not apologize for or be defensive about aggressive enforcement to protect players from illegal and potentially life-altering blows to the head and neck."
The NFL's video, along with a letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell, was sent in the wake of three fines totaling $175,000 to players found to have targeted opponents in the head or neck over the weekend. The video replays examples of "flagrant violations," for which the league says it will begin to suspend players without pay.
Players are warned that even first-time offenders will immediately be subject to suspensions for delivering such flagrant hits to the head and neck area of defenseless players.
In the video, Anderson calls New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather's helmet hit on Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap "inexcusable." Meriweather was fined $50,000 for the hit in which he launched himself headfirst into Heap's helmet.
Also on the video is James Harrison's hit on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi that brought the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker a $75,000 fine, and the collision between Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson and Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson that gave both players concussions. Robinson was fined $50,000 for that tackle.
Anderson says of Robinson's hit, in which the cornerback launched himself toward Jackson but didn't make contact with his helmet: "It's bang-bang but still illegal. The receiver is defenseless and in the act of attempting to catch a pass."
"These hits can have severe consequences for the player delivering the hit as well as for the player taking the blow," adds Anderson, a member of the NFL's competition committee. "Using the head, forearm or shoulder to deliver the initial hit against a defenseless player will draw significant discipline."
Players had seen the 4-minute video by midafternoon Wednesday and had mixed reactions to it.
"We talked about it today," Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "We watched the video that the league sent. There was a lot of comments and observations from the defensive guys, and the offensive guys were mostly quiet. That's just how it is.
"It's a tricky thing. From my perspective, I'm trying to protect the guys that I'm throwing the ball to. I'm trying to put them in a situation where they're not going to get hit like that, but that's about it for me."
"It's nothing that we didn't know," he said. "I think it was good for some people who hadn't been in the league for a while to see that and to kind of refresh your memory for the older guys."
Other illegal tackles shown in the video include Carolina Panthers safety Sherrod Martin's hit on New York Giants tight end Kevin Boss in the season opener (Boss suffered a concussion on the play), and Kansas City Chiefs rookie safety Kendrick Lewis' Week 2 shot on Browns tight end Evan Moore, who received a concussion.
The video also demonstrates the proper way to take down an opponent.
Baltimore Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis is shown using his shoulder to deliver a chest hit in what Anderson terms "a great player making a great play. No launching, no head or neck impact, proper technique that minimizes the risk to the opponent. This is what we are asking."
The crackdown, and subsequent possible suspensions, begins with this weekend's games because the league wanted to give players fair warning. The video explicitly delivers that warning.
"Gentlemen, you must know that player safety is our highest priority," Anderson says. "We have said publicly and we repeat to all of you we will not apologize for or be defensive about aggressive enforcement to protect players from illegal and potentially life-altering blows to the head and neck.
"So please, know the rules and play by the rules. You are on notice, and we will appreciate your compliance."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.