So Peter King has been sitting on this pretty provocative quote for nearly two months, waiting until the week before he NFL regular season to roll it out. Hey, in sports journalism, timing is everything. Our speaker is Carson Palmer, and the subject is NFL defenses, and how dangerous it’s getting out there on the field.
Palmer: “The truth of the matter is … somebody is going to die here in the NFL. It’s going to happen.” Yikes.
King is the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED columnist whom I always imagine with every room in his house filled with Tom Brady and Brett Favre action figures. His affinity for quarterbacks paid dividends this past July at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in South Lake Tahoe, when he gathered five of them for an interview following the first day of competition.
The result, I suppose, was pretty run of the mill, until Palmer began speaking:
“Guys are getting so big, so fast, so explosive,” Palmer said. “The game’s so violent. Now that they’re cutting out the wedge deal on kickoff returns, those guys [are] coming free, and at some point somebody is going to die in football. And I hope it’s not anyone at this table, and I hope it doesn’t happen, obviously. Everyone talks about the good old days, when guys were tough and quarterbacks got crushed all the time, but back in the day, there weren’t defensive ends that were like Mario Williams; 6-7, 300 pounds, 10 percent body fat, running a 4.7 40.
“The game has changed, the game is getting bigger, faster, stronger, and there needs to be more protection. If I weren’t a quarterback, I would be mad about the rules. If I were a safety or a defensive back, I would be mad about the new rule that you can’t hit your helmet above their shoulder pads or whatever it is because it does take some of the ferociousness out of the game, but somebody is going to get seriously hurt, possibly die.
Aside from Palmer, you also had at the table Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers. It must have been pretty fun until Palmer threw his wet blanket on the proceedings — indeed, King said that “a hush” fell over the table when he tossed out the death quote.
Injuries suffered by Palmer and Roethlisberger in 2005 led to NFL rules changes on low hits to quarterbacks; Palmer needing reconstructive knee surgery following a hit by the Steelers’ Kimo von Oelhoffen, a former Bengal.
“I don’t think you can change it. It’s the nature of the world,” Palmer said. “The ways that guys train now, the way that guys eat and take vitamins and take supplements and all these things, guys are getting more muscle mass, more explosiveness, faster. Like I said, I hope to God it doesn’t happen. Since I’ve been in the league, I feel like the D-Ends that come into the league, they’re freaks, they’re freaks of nature, and I hope it doesn’t happen, but the rules need to be adjusted a little bit because [the violence] is getting a little out of control.”
When a man whose knee was rebuilt with a cadaver ligament speaks about death, you tend to listen. Keeping quarterbacks healthy is essential if the NFL as a whole wants to thrive; but how do you create new rules to further hinder defensive players? I don’t think the world is ready for a two-hand touch rule in the NFL.