The Rams said on Friday that any discipline of defensive tackle Aaron Donald for Thursday’s helmet-swinging incident at joint practice with the Bengals will be handled internally. The league has officially said nothing.
Unofficially, the league has acknowledged that it can’t take action against player misconduct during joint practices, but that it can discipline teams for failing to control their players. And it’s obvious that the Rams failed to control Donald.
Consider this photo posted on Twitter by Cameron DaSilva of USA Today. It shows Donald smashing a helmet over the helmet of a Bengals player. Donald’s incredible strength results in the empty helmet nearly flattening.
The league could take a stand, if it chooses. It could try to suspend Donald under the Personal Conduct Policy. The NFL Players Association could (and would) fight back. But so what? Sometimes there’s honor in fighting a losing battle.
That said, the effort could underscore the existence of an important loophole when it comes to player misbehavior. It could be closed only by collective bargaining. As one source connected to the NFLPA remarked on Friday, perhaps the league will propose to swap the ability to impose discipline for conduct in joint practice for the implementation of a neutral appeal of disciplinary decisions made by Judge Sue L. Robinson under the Personal Conduct Policy .
There’s also the possibility that the NFL will privately tell the Rams that, if Donald isn’t suspended, a significant punishment is coming for the team. However, it would have to be a very significant punishment to get the Rams to choose to be without Donald for the opening game of the 2022 regular season, 12 days from today against the Buffalo Bills.
For now, the clear sense is that, while the Rams possibly will fine Aaron Donald (or at least ask him politely to try not to do it again), the team won’t suspend him. The team likely won’t and the league apparently won’t, even though most media and fans seem to recognize that Donald deserves to sit for at least a game for inherently dangerous behavior that somehow didn’t result in someone getting injured.