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Myles Garrett's potential strategy in NFL appeal of indefinite suspension

An expert on labor law says similar infractions that received lesser punishment could help Garrett's case.
Credit: AP
Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett walks off the field after he was ejected late in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, in Cleveland. The Browns won 21-7. (AP Photo/David Richard)

CLEVELAND — Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett will officially appeal his indefinite suspension on Wednesday for hitting Mason Rudolph on the head with the helmet that he ripped off the head of the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback.

Garrett's indefinite suspension, for at least the rest of the season, is the longest suspension in NFL history for a single on-field infraction. Immediately following the game, many national sports pundits were quick to call Garrett's actions, "the worst ever seen."

But is it?

A local expert in labor law and collective bargaining believes that Garrett's strongest argument to reduce his suspension is precedent.

"Precedent is critical, especially in labor relations, where every penalty that you issue is going to have an impact on the penalty that you issue next time," said Jim Verdi, a local labor attorney who specializes in collective bargaining at New York-based law firm, Jackson Lewis, P.C., which has an office in Independence.

"First thing you're going to argue is that yes, there has never been an indefinite suspension for on-the-field conduct and it hasn't been allowed before and it isn't explicitly in the CBA," said Verdi, referring to the NFL's collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association, or NFLPA.

Garrett isn't the first to swing a helmet at an opposing player. In fact, the NFL added the rule in 1982 which reads, "A player may not use a helmet that is no longer worn by anyone as a weapon to strike, swing at, or throw at an opponent. Penalty: For illegal use of a helmet as a weapon: Loss of 15 yards and automatic disqualification."

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In 2013, Antonio Smith ripped off Richie Incognito's helmet and swung it at his head. You can watch it here. Smith was suspended two preseason games and the regular season opener.

Back in 2006, Albert Haynesworth stomped on Andre Gurode's exposed head. Gurode's wound required 30 stitches. You can view the incident here. Haynesworth was suspended for five games.

Verdi added that the issue of provocation may help to mitigate Garrett's punishment. He would argue that earlier, Rudolph's attempts to remove Garrett's helmet, along with a kick to Garrett's groin, could be used to show that he was provoked. Haynesworth had argued that Incognito deliberately poked him in the eye.

"There's a lot of pressure on the NFL to be harsh on this," said Verdi, citing the league's efforts in recent years to improve player safety. He acknowledged that the culture shift may not bode well for Garrett. The question will be, whether Garrett's infraction is precedent setting, that is, never-before-seen, and is it deserving of precedent-setting punishment?

"The NFL has to combat a lot of negative press to show that they're doing everything they can for player safety," said Verdi.

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