NFL rules boss Jon Runyan defends decision to not fine Jadeveon Clowney


Last Friday night, we learned of the NFL’s decision to not levy a fine to Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Carson Wentz in the wild-card round. 

It was a decision that left many Eagles fans flummoxed. 

After all, there was clearly helmet-to-helmet contact and the hit gave Wentz a concussion that knocked him out of the game and knocked the Eagles out of the playoffs. 

On Thursday morning, former Eagles right tackle and the NFL’s Vice President of Policy and Rules Administration Jon Runyan was on the WIP Morning Show to talk about his decision to not fine Clowney. Angelo Cataldi first asked Runyan if he expected a lot of backlash in Philadelphia because of the decision: 

“Well, when the ringleader is an old white guy on the radio sounding like a politician spewing stuff that doesn’t have a lot of fact-base on it, yeah, you can get there. … You got quiet all of a sudden.”

OK! Off and running! 

After that jab (done in jest?) Runyan actually did his best to explain his reasoning for not fining Clowney, but in the process, admitted it was close. 

Runyan first outlined all the reasons he thought the play definitely didn’t deserve a fine: 

• “He’s not a defenseless player because he’s not catching a pass and he’s a runner so he doesn’t have the roughing the passer protection.”

• “It wasn’t a leg-whip, it’s not out of bounds, he’s not blocking someone out of bounds, his forward progress had not been stopped, he had not slid feet first. He was not on the ground.”

• “The next one is unnecessary running, diving, throwing your body against a player who was out of the play or should not have reasonably anticipated contact.”

Runyan doesn’t believe Clowney committed any of those sins. 

Then Runyan made an admission that there was one area where Clowney almost earned a fine: The rulebook outlaws using the helmet or facemask to ram, butt or spear an opponent. Runyan made it a point to note that incidental contact doesn’t warrant a fine; that was his defense in the decision. 

It’s a decision that former VP of Officiating Mike Pereira was interested to find out when he was on WIP back on Jan. 7 and called the hit “unnecessary and forceful.”

Runyan clearly disagreed. Or he at least disagreed with the assessment that the hit deserved a fine. 

“So when you go back and look at this play, it is really, really close,” Runyan said. “Carson’s elbow is still off the ground as Clowney’s arm … the first thing that contacts Wentz is Clowney’s arm to his hip and lower back area and then his shoulder rolls in and then his helmet goes in.”

Runyan says that in the process of making a tackle on a player who was not defenseless and not giving himself up, Clowney’s helmet incidentally made contact with Wentz’s. Right or wrong, that was the decision from the league. 

So basically, we’re back to where we started with the ruling on the field. The referee after the game said the contact was deemed incidental and Runyan’s ruling backed that initial decision. 

You can watch the play yourself and Zapruder it to figure out which contact happens first. 

For what it’s worth, Runyan said he also doesn’t take into account intent or past history of a player when assessing whether or not a hit is worthy of a fine. 

“I’m telling you it’s right on the line,” Runyan said. “You guys watch how I played, I kind of know where the line is and that’s kind of why I have this job. It’s right on the line. 

“It’s like proving a legal case. I have to have one of these rules violated blatantly to rise to that level.”

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