Brandon Meriweather needs to change his ways if he hopes to remain in the new NFL

Mike Wise
Columnist August 26

Before he knocks himself or another player out again, before he is thrown out of the NFL for playing like he belongs in Ronnie Lott’s old violent league instead of Peyton Manning’s 2014 fantasy camp, someone needs to tell Brandon Meriweather two difficult-to-hear truths:

No. 1, your past counts. And No. 2, you were simply born too late to ever be truly valued as a human projectile at the strong safety position.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Judging by the reaction on social media Monday night, neither his teammates nor some members of the local media will tell him that. They’re too busy covering for a man who beats himself as much as he gets beat.

Rather than reminding Meriweather he’s now been fined or disciplined six times for hitting defenseless players with the crown of his helmet — rather than pointing out how his big-hit-or-bust mentality led to more missed tackles (16) than all but one of his teammates last season — they’re all too busy enabling a real Washington headhunter.

“It hurts me that my brother has to go thru this,” DeAngelo Hall tweeted after Meriweather was suspended for this season’s first two games for foolishly launching himself at Baltimore’s Torrey Smith in a preseason game Saturday night. “When you didn’t lead with [your] helmet. #AllShoulder.”

The Post Sports Live crew looks at Robert Griffin III's 2013 statistics and debates how much improvement would constitute a successful 2014 season. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

When asked by The Post’s Mike Jones on Monday if he spoke with Meriweather, Hall said he told the headstrong safety, “Keep hitting. I’ll pay the fine.”

Oh, it gets better. Because that’s apparently how long-snappers roll, Nick Sundberg chimed in with his own off-point tweet: “Sketchyyyyyy . . . Seems a bit excessive, I mean it’s not like he knocked out his wife in a casino elevator . . . On video . . .

Nice, fellas. Beautiful. #AllMisdirection.

Look, no one except Ray Rice, his immediate family and the NFL believes two measly games for charges of domestic assault was just. But don’t mitigate the fact that Meriweather’s reckless history of lowering his head and shoulder before unleashing a devastating hit on a defenseless receiver has cost him nearly $200,000 in fines and more in lost wages the past four seasons. It has also cost all three teams he’s played for on the field.

Once a two-time Pro Bowler in New England, his difference-maker days in the NFL began fading in 2010 when he laid out the Ravens’ Todd Heap with a helmet-to-helmet hit while playing for the Patriots.

The fine ultimately cost him $40,000, but the fallout was worse. Meriweather’s hit, through no fault of his own, was lumped together with a string of ugly, car-accident-like collisions in Week 6 of that season, and suddenly a league soon fighting litigation over head injuries to former players was preaching all safety, all the time.

His ferocity and ears-pinned-back aggression have consistently been legislated out of the NFL since that season as the league continues to favor the further protection of quarterbacks and receivers in almost all of their offseason rule changes. Just this year alone, defensive players learned they will be penalized for pulling on an opponent’s jersey and illegally using their hands — especially if you face-guard a guy, once a staple of backpedaling defensive backs.

Meriweather doesn’t seem to understand that owners would much rather see Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers throw for 500 yards and five touchdowns every week than they would further open their coffers for men who legally claim the NFL knowingly contributed to their brain damage.

Unfortunately for him, Meriweather really did come along at the wrong time. Jack Tatum and Deacon Jones could not have played in this era. Too dirty. If Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor came in as rookies this season, it’s doubtful either would go down as the two greatest linebackers ever to play; they would have missed too many games to suspension.

There is only one way Meriweather will remain in Goodell’s new NFL: re-learn how to tackle. Re-learn how to bring a man to the ground without always using his body as a blunt-force object. London Fletcher learned and it’s why he was able to play injury-free so long.

Until that happens, Meriweather will be watched like a hawk by every official. He will cost himself and his team more games if he continues. As much as Jim Haslett has had his back, the defensive coordinator also is going to be entrusted with winning some football games until this sputtering, Robert Griffin III-led offense gets going. It’s much harder when Meriweather is not back there in that secondary.

The hit on Smith was hardly the worst of Meriweather’s career. When it’s compared to the video of him blowing up Heap or concussing Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy last season, which earned Meriweather a two-game suspension eventually reduced to one game after appeal, it’s fairly tame.

He does look like he was trying to avoid catching Smith with his helmet upon impact.

But that also rationalizes the genesis of his involvement in the play. Meriweather flatly launched himself into the air with malicious intentions, beyond breaking up that play.

That’s not Roger Goodell’s NFL; that’s Pete Rozelle’s and Paul Tagliabue’s league.

The jacked-up hits that linked fans to their instinctual Cro-Magnon ancestors — the jolt of hearing such pad-popping force, a sound that drew so many to football in the first place — is being replaced with the passion of a Fantasy League draft.

A sad-but-true fact for the kids who made something out of themselves because they could lay a lick on somebody: Game-changing hits now often hurt more than help the players who dole them out.

It’s not Meriweather’s fault, but the most important thing he brings to the table as a brain-rattling safety doesn’t carry the value it once did in his workplace. Players essentially paid to inflict damage are becoming extinct.

If his teammates and sycophants really want to help and support him, they would tell Brandon Meriweather this: He needs to adapt. Now. Or find another line of work.

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