Last Thursday, the officials missed an obvious illegal hit by Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith on Saints running back Alvin Kamara. By fining Smith, the NFL has admitted that an error was made.
The league has confirmed that it fined Smith $26,739 for hitting Kamara in the helmet with the crown of Smith’s helmet.
The incident came during a third-and-17 play, with Smith stopping Kamara short of a first down after an eight-yard gain. If the flag had been thrown, the Saints would have gotten a first down at the Dallas 27, down 13-10 early in the fourth quarter.
The new rule against lowering the helmet and initiating contact with it has become a point of significant confusion this year. Applied aggressively during the first two weeks of the preseason, the trend quickly went the other way (even though the NFL technically didn’t change the rule), resulting in the foul not being called as often as it should be or could be.
For the officials, the end result becomes a stew of confusion, with mixed signals from the league and a shifting standard that becomes harder to enforce given that the focal point has expanded from the point of contact but the approach. And perhaps this means that the league should consider alternative strategies for ensuring that, when this foul occurs, a penalty should always be called.