The NFL came down hard on the Ravens on Thursday, ordering them to forfeit three organized team activities and fining the organization and coach John Harbaugh nearly $500,000 for violating the league’s collective bargaining agreement during the team’s rookie minicamp earlier this month.
An investigation by the league confirmed that the Ravens had rookies in full pads for the start of practice on May 6, which the team had previously acknowledged. Teams aren’t allowed to have full-padded practices until training camp.
“It’s what they decided was appropriate, so we’ll respect that,” Harbaugh said following the conclusion of Thursday’s OTA, the third of an initially scheduled 10. “It’s what they decided was appropriate, so we’ll respect that. The only thing I really can say about that is the same thing that I told the players. … I said, ‘There’s not one player or one coach in this room that should worry about it for one second.’ They shouldn’t have any anxiety about it because it’s on me. It’s completely me. It was my decision, it was my effort.”
The Ravens have canceled next week’s three OTAs, as part of the penalty from the league. That means their final OTA will be the week of June 6. That will lead into the three-day mandatory minicamp, which will start on June 14.
“That’s the situation that we’re in,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll adjust, we’ll adapt and we’ll still become the best football team we can be.”
As part of the punishment, the Ravens were docked $343,057, while Harbaugh was hit with a $137,223 fine. It marks the second time in Harbaugh’s tenure where the Ravens were punished for violating the CBA, a fact that contributed to a stiffer penalty.
In 2010, the Ravens were ordered to cancel the final week of offseason workouts after multiple players complained to the players association about being kept at the facility too long for practices.
Harbaugh didn’t specify Thursday why the team decided to put the rookies in pads, though he alluded Thursday to some confusion with all the documented rules and regulations of the CBA. All along, though, the Ravens have maintained they didn’t believe the same no-full-pads, no-live-contact rules that govern OTAs also applied to the rookie minicamps.
“There’s the CBA, the way it’s written. Word for word, we’ve read it all. There are side letters and there are amendments to side letters. There’s a handbook and there’s things that get added to the handbook regularly that come out in memos,” Harbaugh said. “And there are things that you’d look at it and say, ‘You know, I think we have an opportunity here to gain some ground with the rookies.’ It was a rookie developmental period. It wasn’t the case. It was wrong. I read it the wrong way. It’s on me. Any other detail, I don’t think anybody wants to hear any of that stuff.”
The team essentially self-reported the violation when tight end Benjamin Watson, the Ravens’ union representative, called the players association to check on whether rookies were allowed to wear pads during the minicamp.
By the time Watson got back to the team and informed Harbaugh that it was a CBA violation, the Ravens had already started practice with a punt protection drill and one-on-one offensive and defensive linemen drills.
On the surface, the league’s punishment shouldn’t be too damaging to the Ravens, although Harbaugh values the OTA time, viewing the workouts as an important time for the young players to get repetitions, and the team to start gaining chemistry. The Ravens currently have 23 rookies on their roster, and 31 newcomers from last season.
The three forfeited workouts means the Ravens will have seven total OTA sessions ahead of the three-day mandatory minicamp from June 14-16. Instead of going through various meetings and on-field workouts next week, players will now stay away from the team facility for the period of time.
“We’ll adjust, we’ll figure out ways to get our work done, for sure,” Harbaugh said. “In some ways, maybe the rest will be good for us. That’s kind of the way I look at it. I told the guys, ‘I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have thought of giving our guys some time off after six weeks of hard work. Maybe the good Lord is looking down and giving us what we need right now.’ That’s how we’re going to look at it.”
The league’s discipline falls in line with what other teams have gotten for similar infractions. In 2007, the Oakland Raiders waived their final week of the offseason program after the union accused then-coach Lane Kiffin of running on-field offseason workouts that violated CBA rules.
In 2014, the Seattle Seahawks had to forfeit two minicamp practices after the team was ruled to be using excessive contact during the OTAs. The organization and coach Pete Carroll were fined in excess of $300,000.
The Ravens’ biggest issue now will almost certainly be the outside perception that Harbaugh and the organization were trying to evade rules that have been in place since 2011. Harbaugh has been an outspoken critic of the current CBA, and the team has called for several rule changes in recent seasons.
“The bottom line, it’s on me,” Harbaugh said.