NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says players have adjusted to rules instituted to minimize hits to the head.
But free agent Ryan Clark, a former longtime safety with the Steelers, said some players merely try to circumvent the rules in creative ways, since they are more concerned about suffering a major knee injury than a concussion.
"I've had players in the beginning of games tell me, 'Hey RC, listen -- if you got a shot, hit me up high. If you get fined, I'll pay it,'" Clark said Tuesday on ESPN's "First Take."
"I had a player tell me [that] this season. I said, 'You're good. I don't want to go low anyway. I'll make the tackle.' Players are thinking to themselves, offensive players, 'Hey, I'd rather be hit in the head and be out one game, maybe not be out at all, than be hit in the knees and it be a season or career injury.'"
Improving player safety has become one of Goodell's top initiatives, and it is centered on eliminating hits that result in concussions. The league has aggressively fined players and even suspended chronic offenders for hits above the shoulders.
The new rules applied to hitting a defenseless player have forced tacklers to adjust their striking zone, and players such as Clark (a former union representative) have raised concerns about lower hitting zones.
Goodell, however, said rules that prohibit helmet-to-helmet hits have produced positive results.
"While there are some that say it has had a negative [impact] -- as an example, ACL injuries being up -- that's not the case," Goodell said Monday at the NFL owners meetings. "What we've seen is that players have adjusted to the rules and they are finding that target zone, and it is a safer, better game because of it."