Brooke Pryor, ESPN Staff WriterDec 18, 2023, 01:34 PM ET
- Previously covered the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star and Oklahoma University for the Oklahoman.
PITTSBURGH — After an ejection for a hard hit on Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. on Saturday, Steelers safety Damontae Kazee has been suspended for the final three games of the regular season without pay for repeated violation of rules meant to protect the health and safety of players, the NFL announced Monday.
The suspension also includes any potential playoff games.
NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan issued the suspension for a violation of the rule that states it’s a foul if a player “forcibly hits the defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, face mask, forearm or shoulder, even if the initial contact is lower than the player’s neck, and regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him.”
In a letter to Kazee, Runyan said the Steelers safety had an “unobstructed path” to Pittman and that “illegal contact could have been avoided.”
“With 8:49 remaining in the 2nd quarter, you were involved in a play that the League considers a serious violation of the playing rules,” Runyan wrote. “The video of the play shows that you delivered a forcible blow to the head/neck area of Colts’ receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who was in a defenseless posture. You had an unobstructed path to your opponent and the illegal contact could have been avoided. Your actions were flagrant, and as a result, you were disqualified from the game.”
Coach Mike Tomlin said after the game the ejection came from “New York,” and on Monday he said Kazee isn’t “a dirty player.”
“Usually I talk about lowering the target,” Tomlin said when asked about coaching points he gives his safeties. “The target was low and both guys were going. It was just unfortunate. I know he is not a dirty player. He doesn’t aspire to do some of the things that came to light under those circumstances.
“Sometimes it’s just professional football today, and how difficult it is to operate, but the National Football League is really clear, man. They put a hundred percent of the onus on the defender in those circumstances. It’s unfortunate, but we understand it.”
Kazee has been previously fined five times for various unnecessary roughness violations for a total of $59,030 this season.
Runyan’s letter also notes Kazee’s status as a repeat offender as a contributing factor to the suspension, which will cost him roughly $208,000 in salary.
“When players violate the rules intended to protect player safety on a repeated basis, and particularly when the violations carry with them a significant risk of injury to an opposing player, it is appropriate to impose substantially greater penalties,” Runyan wrote.
Retired quarterback Tom Brady, who has been outspoken about his displeasure with the NFL’s rule changes made in the name of player safety, reacted to Kazee’s suspension in a comment under a SportsCenter post on Instagram.
“Nobody likes seeing players hurt. But hard hits happen. QBs should not be throwing the ball in areas where they are exposing their own teammates to these types of hits,” he wrote. “Coaches need to coach better, QBs need to read coverages and throw the ball to the right places and defenders should aim for the right hitting areas. To put the blame on the defense player all the time is just flat out wrong. Need better QB play!! It’s not OK QBs to get your WRs hit because of your bad decisions!”
Colts assistant secondary coach and former Steelers defensive back Mike Mitchell tweeted Monday, “I don’t know what to tell my safeties anymore.
“I guess just let them catch it. If I were a WR I would dive for every catch. That would ensure no contact and a completed pass. Playing deep safety in today’s nfl where rules are made mostly by people who’ve never played is tough.”
Under the collective bargaining agreement, Kazee is allowed to appeal the suspension. If he does, either Derrick Brooks or James Thrash, the hearing officers jointly appointed by the NFL and the players’ association, would hear the appeal.
Pittman entered the concussion protocol after the hit and did not return to the game.