FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The headline of a Sporting News preseason yearbook feature on Rodney Harrison once called him "The Last Assassin" for the way he ruthlessly hammered ball carriers. He walloped a defenseless receiver or two in his day.
But the former New England Patriots safety claims the only way to rid the NFL of players delivering helmet shots is to skip the fines and dole out suspensions.
"You didn't get my attention when you fined me five grand, 10 grand, 15 grand," Harrison said on NBC's "Football Night in America" set Sunday. "You got my attention when I got suspended, and I had to get away from my teammates, and I disappointed my teammates from not being there."
In the NFL culture, some ultra-aggressive defenders view fines merely as investments or necessary employment fees. Many wouldn't be on a roster if they weren't capable of delivering the big hit. So when they get flagged for a helmet-to-helmet blast or for nailing a receiver who's watching the ball, an occasional fine is part and parcel.
"But you have to suspend these guys," Harrison said. "These guys are making millions of dollars."
Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather was flagged for launching himself at Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap, one of multiple dubious head shots around the league Sunday. Heap was defenseless. Meriweather went helmet-to-helmet.
New York Jets safety Jim Leonhard also was called for unnecessary roughness for drilling Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Lloyd along the sideline on a long third-quarter completion. The 15 yards helped the Broncos score a touchdown on the drive. But replays showed Leonhard used his shoulder.
Meriweather likely will be fined. He wasn't ejected, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick, clearly upset, yanked him. Meriweather eventually returned because safety Jarrad Page hurt his left calf.
"It's not the fine that's going to do it," NBC studio analyst Tony Dungy said. "These guys are not doing this on purpose, but they've got to lower their strike zone, change it. We had this with the quarterbacks a few years ago, and we got the defenders to change. You have to protect these receivers. Some of these guys may be out two or three weeks, and the only way to make it fair is have these defenders sit out if they damage someone."
Harrison explained his target area was "right on the chest. You're taught to separate the guy from the ball. ... Now all of a sudden, as you're coming, you start raising up a couple inches. Now it's helmet to helmet. Now they're going to have to reprogram these players to start hitting lower, by the waist."