Chicago Bears: Dustin Keller

Dirty Laundry: The price of head contact

August, 21, 2013

I cringed and started worrying after the third or fourth time I saw Jon Bostic's highlight-reel hit last week. Would the collision between Bostic, the Chicago Bears' rookie middle linebacker, and San Diego Chargers receiver Mike Willie surface as the first example in 2013 of the NFL's continued emphasis against head-to-head contact?

The answer appears to be yes, based on a tweet from teammate Lance Briggs that reported the NFL fined Bostic $21,000 for the play. (The fine has since been confirmed by ESPN and other outlets.)

When you watch the replay in the video above, you see Willie reaching for a short slant pass and begin the process of catching it when Bostic launched a perfectly-timed hit to dislodge the ball. If you slow it down frame by frame, you see that the top of Bostic's helmet made contact with the bottom left side of Willie's helmet. No penalty was called.

[+] EnlargeJon Bostic
AP Photo/Scott BoehmJon Bostic was fined $21,000 Wednesday for his hit on San Diego Chargers wide receiver Mike Willie.
In sum, it's a play we've all seen countless times in NFL games. Many of them have been celebrated by NFL Films. But in 2013, and forever more, it is the type of contact the NFL wants to at least appear to be discouraged.

The NFL instituted new rules this year barring contact with the crown of the helmet, but in this case, it used one of its previously established rules to hand out the fine. Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7 (b2) renders this action to be illegal: "Lowering the head and making forcible contact with the top/crown or forehead/'hairline' parts of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player's body."

We can argue until we're blue in the face about whether Bostic lowered his head or if his head was simply tilted downward in a form tackle position when contact occurred. You can also question whether "defenseless position" was originally contemplated for a receiver reaching for a pass when both feet are on the ground. In this case, Willie took two steps before Bostic hit him. It wouldn't have been outrageous to call the play a catch and fumble.

But as we've discussed before, that ship has sailed. The conversation is over. At last count, more than 4,000 former NFL players are suing the league for concussion-related issues. Head safety is the league's top priority, legally and otherwise, and you can expect more aggressive interpretations of its rules moving forward.

Briggs later tweeted his disgust that the NFL fined Bostic but that the low hit on Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller, which ruptured multiple knee ligaments, has gone unpunished. So goes the world we live in, like it or not. It's cheaper, for both the league and its players, to take out a player's knees than to hit him in the head. There is no going back now.

Bears' Bostic fined $21K for hit

August, 21, 2013

CHICAGO – Bears rookie linebacker Jon Bostic was fined $21,000 Wednesday for his hit on San Diego Chargers wide receiver Mike Willie.

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Bears free agency preview: Tight ends

January, 30, 2013
GiantsRob Carr/Getty ImagesIf the Giants let Martellus Bennett hit the open market he figures to get a lot of attention.
The Chicago Bears need a tight end capable of working the middle of the field who can catch the ball on a regular basis. But it doesn't appear that person is on the team's roster.

It would be viewed by many as an upset if Kellen Davis sees the second year of the contract he signed with the Bears last offseason that calls for a base salary of $2.4 million in 2013. Davis just isn't the dependable threat in the passing game the Bears need at tight end. He had far too many drops last year as he struggled to stay upright whenever he had to turn his body to make a catch or run up field.

[+] EnlargeEvan Rodriguez
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhWill Evan Rodriguez emerge as a dependable receiver in his second season?
That needs to be fixed.

Further down the depth chart are accomplished blocker Matt Spaeth, developing pass-catcher Kyle Adams, and 2012 fourth-round pick Evan Rodriguez, who spent his rookie year lining up roughly 10-12 snaps per game at the hybrid H-Back position. The Bears' reserves are more than capable to handle their respective roles, but the team has been lacking a front-line tight end since the previous regime decided to trade Greg Olsen to Carolina in the summer of 2011.

In a twist of bad luck, there are a handful of talented tight ends slated to be restricted free agents, led by Dennis Pitta, who had a breakout year for the Baltimore Ravens with 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season. Pitta also has two postseason touchdown receptions for the AFC champions.

Acquiring restricted free agents is much trickier because teams have a right to match any offer sheet the player signs, and depending on the tender amount, teams can be due compensation in the form of draft picks if they decide not to match the offer.

The Bears are in desperate need of an upgrade and will no doubt investigate and consider all the available options. If they decide to address the issue in free agency, here is a list of some of the projected unrestricted free agent tight ends.

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