MMQB Mailbag: NFL not deterring players from fights with small fines

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• I hate the sanctions given Cortland Finnegan and Andre Johnson. The NFL, quite simply, is not doing anything to deter players from fighting by imposing $25,000 fines, the way they've done in the last eight days with Richard Seymour for decking Ben Roethlisberger and now for Cortland Finnegan and Andre Johnson brawling.

As I explained Monday, Seymour's fine is one-fifth of 1 percent of his 2010 salary. How exactly is that a deterrent? Add all three fines together and you get the same amount James Harrison of the Steelers got for his accidental violent hit on the Browns' Mohamed Massaquoi a month ago.

I find it absurd that the NFL thinks what it's done to the three fighters will do anything to change their behavior, or deter other players from fighting in the future. The NFL should have suspended Finnegan and Johnson for one game apiece. That would have gotten players' attention.

• A big reason to like Steve Johnson. Johnson got major headlines Monday after dropping the pass that would have beaten Pittsburgh in overtime and apparently blaming God for the mistake on Twitter. He's since rebounded with a bunch of tweets saying he really didn't mean that.

I got an interesting explanation of what happened with Johnson postgame Sunday from Scott Berchtold, the Bills media-relation poobah. Here it is: "We figured Stevie would address the media at his locker, but he insisted on doing it at the podium. He assured us that he was OK to address the media at the podium and really wanted to do it there, even though we reminded him that he had the option of addressing them at his locker. The bottom line is that Stevie was really a stand-up guy through it all and it was his idea to go to the podium. He didn't duck anyone and he answered the questions that were asked of him. He was extremely honest in his comments, as I'm sure you saw, and we just thought he deserved a lot of credit for being a stand-up guy in a situation that was, obviously, very emotional and extremely difficult for him.''

Understand this: Johnson probably would have had 40 or so media people around his locker, with TV minicams there too, trying to hear what he said and straining to get a view so they could read his emotions. The fact that he chose to open himself up to the media while he still was devastated says to me this is a mature kid who gets the responsibility he has and understands the job of the media to tell the story the right way.

• The first shot, in this space, at a top-of-the-draft board for the 2011 draft. Here goes, led by the quarterback everyone's going to want -- and who still would have to declare for the draft because he'll have two years of college eligibility left after the season:

• Westbrook must be coddled. The 49ers are thrilled to have signed Brian Westbrook for Frank Gore insurance, and well they should be now that Gore has been lost for the year with a broken hip.

Last night in Arizona, Westbrook had 23 carries for 136 yards and was the main reason the Niners got a season-saving win. But there's one thing about his play I didn't like. There was too much of it. We all know Westbrook's shot legs and ankles mean he's got a finite number of carries left in him. The Niners have to manage those carries very, very carefully. I realize he'd only had five going into last night, but he's not going to survive many 23-carry games.

With San Francisco having 24-6 lead with 17 minutes left in the game last and Arizona absolutely sputtering offensively, it was time to take Westbrook out and let the bench finish the game. But from there, the Niners handed him the ball for seven rushes -- one was called back due to penalty -- in trying to run the clock out.

This should be the rule around the 49ers for the rest of the year: Westbrook doesn't play when the Niners are up by 20 or down by 20 inside of 20 minutes to play. Period. And then pray he survives the next five weeks.

• Derek Anderson needs to take a seat. This has nothing to do with his postgame fit at logical questions from Arizona Republic beat man Kent Somers about why he was laughing on the sidelines in the fourth quarter of an embarrassing loss. It has to do with his play, which has been terrible. The Cardinals now are officially playing for 2011, which Anderson will have nothing to do with. Max Hall and John Skelton, the rookie quarterbacks backing up Anderson, will probably be on the team in 2011. They need to see all the time in the last 20 quarters of the season so Ken Whisenhunt can see which one will enter next season competing for the starting job with whoever Whisenhunt and GM Rod Graves import at the position.

• The Panthers are going to have a tough call to make. I'd be surprised if Carolina -- which has Atlanta twice and a short-week Thursday-nighter at Pittsburgh in its last five games -- avoids the top pick in the draft. And while owner Jerry Richardson goes through a coaching change and the CBA negotiations, he and GM Marty Hurney are going to have to decide whether it makes any sense to pass on Luck just because they drafted a good quarterback prospect, Jimmy Clausen, in the second round last year.

Clausen's been OK this year; he actually was close to heroic late in the game at Cleveland on Sunday. But I think unless the Panthers get the kind of three-top-picks offer to drop down a bit in the first round, there's no way I wouldn't pick Luck first overall. It's the kind of decision that could torment them for years if they pass him by.

Now for your e-mail:

• THE MIGHTY NFC WEST. "Peter, your Fine 15 is lacking an NFC West team, as it should. Yet one of these mediocre-at-best teams will make the playoffs, quite possibly at 7-9. Do you think the NFL would ever agree to institute a rule stating you must be a .500 team or better to make the playoffs? It would be an embarrassment -- and a lot less interesting to watch -- if a 7-9 Seahawks or 49ers team makes it to the playoffs while a 10-6 Buccaneers team, e.g., is home watching.''--Alex Berman, Deerfield Beach, Fla.

I understand the question, and it's going to be raised a lot in the coming weeks. But if the division winner is not going to make the playoffs automatically, why have divisions? The very occasional lousy record to win the division is unfortunate, but no reason to change the rules. Now about the home game for all division winners, that absolutely has to go.

• WOODHEAD'S THE MAN. "With the Patriots signing Danny Woodhead to a contract extension last week, do you think Kevin Faulk's career is over? Woodhead has done an amazing job filling in, but it will still be sad to see Faulk retire. He doesn't get as much credit as he deserves for his part in NE's success over the last decade.''--Lyndon, Colton, Calif.

I have great respect for Faulk, and Bill Belichick loves him. Loves him. But Belichick is a bottom-line guy, and if he views Woodhead as a decade-younger Faulk, I wouldn't be surprised if the Pats give Faulk a gold watch and fond handshake after the season and wish him well in his future endeavors.

• LOTS OF NFL FOLKS WOULD LOVE TO SEE THIS. "Since you brought up the UFL ... any chance the NFL works with it to make it a development league? Considering the discussions of an 18-game season, and the injuries you are seeing this year (and every year), could we see the NFL using this as a place to send third-string QBs to get some development work so they are not so "raw" when required to come in and play?''--Kyle Lee, Vail, Ariz.

Good question. I think the way the United Football League is constituted, it makes sense for it to be a sort of Triple-A league for the NFL. Problem is, owners like Mark Cuban may have delusions of grandeur about being a true competitor to the NFL someday. So I'm not sure the current UFL owners would want to be a developmental league totally.