TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 18: Linebacker Mason Foster #59 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers watches his team from the bench against the New England Patriots during a preseason game at Raymond James Stadium on August 18, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
On Thursday night, a Buccaneer middle linebacker hit a wide receiver harder than any Buc linebacker has hit an opponent in years. Mason Foster was in zone coverage in the middle of the field, saw a ball thrown, and headed for the spot where the ball would be caught. There, he met Chad Ochocinco with such force that the ball was forced loose, and the pass was called incomplete. It was the hardest hit I've seen any Buccaneer apply since Tanard Jackson hit Dallas Clark in Jackson's rookie year.
Unfortunately, that sort of hit is illegal these days. Any hit to the head or neck area of a defenseless receiver is illegal - and that includes this hit by Mason Foster. That's why the NFL has decided to fine Mason Foster with $20,000, the standard fee for first-time offenders on this kind of hit. It's very unfortunate for Foster, although Ochinco has offered to pay the fine, as has the linebacking corps via Geno Hayes. The league has since said that that's not allowed, but I have no idea how they're going to monitor players' personal finances.
This kind of hit is unavoidable in the NFL sometimes. When a receiver goes over the middle, these hits are going to occur. Receivers duck their heads, and linebackers can't aim lower. The NFL wants to change that, but it seems impossible. Yet somehow, Mason Foster is the victim of this new rules. We will see whether these hits can be eliminated in a couple of years, but I sincerely doubt it.