Dallas Cowboys

NFL rules Jeff Heath’s hit illegal but considers mitigating factors in not levying a fine

The NFL confirmed Friday that it did not fine Jeff Heath for his blindside block on Ricardo Lockette that left the Seahawks receiver with a season-ending neck injury that required surgery. However, on his weekly officiating video, Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, said the hit was illegal.

“As part of the discipline process, when it’s reviewed during the week, you can consider mitigating factors – mitigating factors such as the receiver’s head level changing, all those types of things are considered in the potential fine process,” Blandino said. “On the field, the rule is strict liability of the player delivering the block.”

The minimum for a first offense blindside block is $23,152. Heath, who has never been fined, makes $34,411 per week.

During a Cowboys punt return late in the second quarter Sunday, the Cowboys safety hit Lockette with a vicious block. Heath drew a 15-yard penalty for a blindside block.

“There’s really two factors in determining whether this is a foul,” Blandino said. “The first factor is the direction the blocker is going, so if the blocker is moving toward his own goal line or parallel to his own goal line, that’s the first part. Then, the second part is the contact. So if there is forceable contact to the head or neck area, then it’s a blindside block.”

Blandino adds that Heath was moving parallel to his own goal line and made contact with Lockette’s head and neck area.

“In order to make this block legally, the blocker would have to be going toward his own end zone, away from his own goal line and not parallel to his own goal line,” Blandino said. “That would be legal if he’s heading in that direction. …It is a blindside block by rule. Their shoulders might end up square at the point of contact, or that the player being blocked can see the blocker, does not factor into the decision whether it’s a foul. The fact that 83 [Lockette] may duck his head to brace for the contact does not factor into the official’s decision as to whether this is a foul. It’s basically strict liability on the player initiating contact, the player delivering the block. He must avoid contact, forceable contact to the head or neck area, regardless of the body level or head level changing of the player being blocked. This is no different than a defensive player attempting to hit a receiver who’s in a defensive posture. If a defenseless player’s posture changes, the onus is still on the defender to avoid that forceable contact to the head and neck area. So that’s how the rule is administered. So this is a blindside block.”

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