The NFL on Monday night announced two-game suspensions for Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and Oakland Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree. It was swift justice for an extended fight one day earlier.
Shortly thereafter, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio tweeted his understandable confusion about the discipline, noting the NFL's refusal to suspend the protagonists of an equally violent fight four weeks earlier in Jacksonville.
I've got news for you, Del Rio. Talib and Crabtree didn't just receive far harsher punishments than Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green and Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey. If these suspensions hold up under expected appeals, they received two of the most severe disciplinary actions for an on-field incident in NFL history.
There are no official records for suspensions in pro football, but the website Football Zebras maintains a well-researched database that shows only seven incidents since 1920 that resulted in multigame suspensions. (The list does not include suspensions under the drug or personal conduct policies.) If you're one who believes the NFL is cracking down more severely this season, you'll note that two of the seven -- accounting for three of the eight players suspended -- have occurred this season.
The NFL seemed to take into account the prior history between Talib and Crabtree as well as Crabtree's punch of a Broncos player one play before the fight. Regardless, the NFL has placed them in rare company in an effort to root out fighting at a time of the season when maximum eyes are on the league and tensions tend to run high.
The first player to be suspended for more than one game under such circumstances was Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Charles Martin, who got two games from commissioner Pete Rozelle for body-slamming Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon in 1986. Here is the rest of the list:
2014: Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather suspended two games for multiple illegal hits on defenseless players.
2016/2017: Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict suspended three games in consecutive seasons for hits on defenseless players and a blindside block, respectively.
2017: Talib and Crabtree suspended two games, pending appeals.
Do Talib and Crabtree deserve spots alongside Suh, Burfict, Haynesworth, Meriweather and Martin? That's a short list of players in a span of 31 years, much less the nearly 100-year history of the NFL.
Here's what I would tell you: The context of NFL on-field discipline has changed dramatically under commissioner Roger Goodell, and there's no sense in comparing what Talib and Crabtree did to what you've seen NFL Films document from the 1970s or even the 2000s. The league has taken a much harsher approach the past 10 years, presumably in an effort to further sanitize the game of what we'll call "unsanctioned violence."
If anything, that effort has accelerated this season. While the league has handed out three multigame suspensions, referees have ejected 13 players from games through the first 12 weeks. That matches the NFL's highest total since at least 2001, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and likely longer than that.
So yes, Del Rio, Monday night's news was a little confusing, given the league's long-term history. But in terms of 2017 and beyond? We probably shouldn't be surprised.