The NFL and NFL Players Association on Monday jointly announced new guidelines designed to probe and punish teams that violate the league's game-day concussion protocol.
Under the new policy, when a team's medical staff or other employee is determined to violate the concussion protocol, the team could be subject to discipline -- either fines of anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 for a first violation, or loss of draft picks.
Fines for violators will ramp up to a minimum of $100,000 for a second and each additional violation of the concussion protocol.
There are additional penalties if the violation involves aggravating circumstances, and commissioner Roger Goodell may impose more severe financial penalties and require clubs to forfeit picks if it's determined that a club's medical team ignored protocol for competitive reasons.
To enforce the new policy, the league and the players' union will each designate a representative to monitor teams' implementation of the protocol and investigate potential violations. The league and union's joint statement said the investigation will not make medical conclusions but will only determine whether the protocol was followed. An arbitrator will handle cases where the league and union disagree and report to the commissioner.
Goodell retains sole discretion in determining penalties for violations of the game-day concussion protocol.
The league and union's new rules are geared toward refining the existing ability to enforce whether teams are abiding by the concussion protocol, making it easier for the league to evaluate how teams handle concussions and determine whether a violation occurred, the league and NFLPA said.
The threat by the players' union to claim medical malpractice against team doctors and league neurologists assigned to games was a significant driving force in the new policy, a league source told ESPN's Ed Werder.
Citing the example of the concussion Rams quarterback Case Keenum suffered during a 16-13 loss to the Ravens last season, the union threatened to make accusations of malpractice under Article 50 of the collective bargaining agreement in future such cases, and the NFL said after the Keenum situation that it would consider future discipline for clubs that violate the procedure. The NFL investigated the series of events during which Keenum stayed in the game for the team's final two offensive plays after suffering the injury but decided not to penalize the Rams for mishandling concussion protocols.
Diagnosed concussions rose by nearly 32 percent in the NFL during the 2015 season, according to data released in January by the league.
The 2015 total was 271, a figure that includes all preseason and regular-season games as well as all practices since the start of training camp. The league had previously boasted of a decrease in reported concussions in both 2014 (206) and 2013 (229), a drop the league attributed to an enhanced concussion protocol it implemented after the 2012 season. There had been 261 reported concussions in 2012.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.