It took six days, but the NFL finally handed down Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's punishment Wednesday for (unwittingly or otherwise) inserting himself into the Thanksgiving night game during a Jacoby Jones kick return. The seventh-year coach is now $100,000 lighter in the wallet, but the league also added, "because the conduct affected a play on the field, a modification or forfeiture of draft choices will be considered after the final order of the 2014 draft has been determined."
It seemed like an odd addendum; the NFL levied a six-figure fine and it doesn't need to wait until the draft order is set to take one of the Steelers' draft picks (the league didn't wait to strip the Patriots of a first-rounder when they fined Bill Belichick and the organization for the whole SpyGate mess).
But NFL VP of Operations Ray Anderson, who handed down the punishment, is waiting to see if there are "unforeseen ramifications from the interference with play," before making his ultimate decision. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ray Fittipaldo writes that "Those 'unforeseen ramifications' could be things such as tiebreaking procedures that go into determining playoff qualification and/or seeding."
More details, via Fittipaldo:
Tomlin's actions did not affect the outcome of the game, but the Ravens did not score on that play. They settled for a field goal on the ensuing drive, which theoretically could skew playoff scenarios. For instance, the sixth tiebreaking procedure to determine a wild-card playoff berth is best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
The Steelers are one game behind the Ravens for the final playoff berth in the AFC. The Ravens have scored 249 points and have allowed 235. The Steelers have scored 263 points and allowed 278. Because the Ravens scored 3 points and not 7 on that drive, the play in question could affect the playoffs. For that reason, the NFL is not closing the case.
Put another way: The Steelers will almost certainly keep all their draft picks. The Ravens are currently the sixth seed in the AFC and for their playoff fate to hinge on those four points seems unlikely. There's also this: While not indisputable, we can make a reasonable argument that Cortez Allen would have tackled Jones whether Tomlin was on the field or not, so there's no guarantee Jones would have scored a touchdown (although, based on the statement, it appears the league seems less concerned with that).
Either way, the Steelers aren't happy about the prospect of losing a draft choice; a team source told Fittipaldo that "there is no precedent for it."
And there may not be, either, at least this season.