PITTSBURGH -- The NFL sent a clear message to Mike Tomlin and the rest of the NFL coaches when it fined him $100,000 for his sideline interference in the Steelers' 22-20 loss to the Ravens on Thanksgiving.
It also drew a line regarding the liberties that coaches take regarding the white stripe that separates the sideline from the field of play. By coming down hard on Tomlin a day after he issued a sweeping apology for interfering on a Jacoby Jones kickoff return, the NFL is also trying to rein in the rest of the league coaches by re-establishing a clear boundary between the sideline and the field.
The consequences for Tomlin's controversial footwork could go far beyond his bank account. The league is considering stripping the Steelers of draft choices, and if it adds that to the punishment, it will come at about the worst time possible for the organization.
The Steelers build through the draft, and they are already without their third-round pick in 2014, having traded it to the Browns last year for an extra fourth-round selection that they used on safety Shamarko Thomas.
With a defense that has to get younger and add playmakers and an offensive line that is perpetually in flux, the Steelers need their draft picks in the worst way. Losing more of them would be a significant setback.
The decision by the NFL to mete out punishment while leaving open the possibility of adding to it is a curious one.
It signals that league officials are still trying to determine whether Tomlin meant to get in the way of Jones during a 73-yard kickoff return after a Steelers touchdown had cut the Ravens' lead to 13-7.
Tomlin has adamantly denied that there was any intent on his part for wandering onto the field during a critical juncture of the game. The seventh-year coach hoped to take some of the steam out of the story with his unusual frankness during his weekly news conference as well as owning up to erring in a big way in Baltimore.
Tomlin has been heard. So has the NFL, and the Steelers may still have to pay a greater price for their coach's actions.