In the first half of Thursday night's win over the Tennessee Titans, Colts outside linebacker Erik Walden made a very, very stupid move that will cost at least his checkbook, if not time on the field.
According to pretty much everybody (because it's common sense), the NFL is looking into Walden's actions and is considering discipline. ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Mike Wells reported that sources told them that "Walden is expected to receive a hefty fine, but that he's not likely to be suspended." This came shortly after NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that a "suspension is an option, I'm told."
In the second quarter in a game that the Colts once again started slow in and on a drive plagued by several defensive penalties for Indianapolis, the one that stood out was the personal foul called on Walden. He grabbed the facemask of Walker and ripped his helmet off (and mind you, most of this occurred after the play). He then proceeded to take his head (with his helmet still on but with Walker's off) and head-butt the Titans tight end. He was flagged for a personal foul, but that was it - no ejection, which was one that the officials clearly got wrong.
"What got him riled up? I was whupping his butt, that's what happened, and the cat couldn't take it when he was getting whupped," Walker said. "He got frustrated, and he should have been ejected for what he did. That's bush league and that's the type of stuff we don't need in this league."
"I threw a punch at him; I'm not going to lie about that. It's on film," Walker said. "But that was just a reaction. You head-butt me in the face because I am beating you? C'mon."
"I whupped on him the whole game, and I'm going to whup on him again in two weeks," Walker said. "We are not cool. That type of stuff doesn't belong in the NFL."
Erik Walden also responded after the game, with this quote coming from ESPN"s Paul Kuharsky:
"It was a selfish act. It could have cost my team bigger than I did. I lost my composure. It something that can't happen. It wasn't really something he did, it was ticky-tack. I can't allow myself to take it that far."
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was asked about the actions of his outside linebacker in his press conference today, obviously. Here is Pagano's response, asked about Walden's actions and if he anticipates any sort of action from the league:
"Yeah, I'm sure something obviously is going to come down with the league. You just hope and pray it's nothing too serious. But you got to keep your cool. He said it last night in talking to you guys and reading the clips and we talked about it as soon as they got off the field. We talked to all those guys. It doesn't matter, they always catch the second guy. That's forever. We talked about it right after and said, ‘You can't, no matter how frustrated you are, no matter how the game's going, no matter what the guy did to you, you cannot retaliate. You can't pull guys' hats off. You can't take swings. You got to keep your composure. You got to keep your poise, no matter what the situation.' He knows that. Erik's a grown man, he's accountable and he understands that. He doesn't want to do anything to hurt this team. It's frustration."
It sounds like a fine for Walden's actions is definite (and according to Mortensen and Wells, a pretty "hefty fine," too), but a suspension is probably not going to happen. I will go on record as saying that I think that would be the wrong move, as I think that those actions warrant a suspension. You can't just head-butt a guy like that, especially after you rip his helmet off. The NFL is trying to take player safety and especially head injuries much more seriously, so how could they just let this slide by with a 15-yard penalty and a fine? I mean, college football is ejecting guys on the spot for ticky-tack hits in the course of the game in an effort to cut down on helmet-to-helmet hits. I don't agree with the rule, but I agree with the emphasis behind it and that is to protect players. I think that often it is taken too far in terms of what is penalized in the course of a game, but that is a completely different issue - albeit one that sets the background for this discussion. If the pinnacle league of a sport that is trying to convey the message of protecting players from unnecessary head injuries so seriously that they will penalize players in game for hits in the course of a game, I can't imagine how they let this one slide with just a 15-yard penalty and a fine. This wasn't in the course of a play and it wasn't accidental - this was intentional and after the play. Erik Walden head-butted a helmetless player after the play. That absolutely warrants a suspension in my mind.
As a Colts fan, Walden's actions were much more embarrassing than even the 30 point loss to the Rams last week. That was on the field, where every team is going to have bad days and where that is just part of the game. This was off the field where you want your franchise to control themselves and act more professionally than that.
I don't believe Erik Walden is a "dirty player" just because of this one incident and it doesn't change my opinion on him that he has had a much better season than I expected him to. I believe that Walden regrets his actions, but the fact remains that ultimately your actions have consequences, and for Walden I believe that should be a suspension.
It sounds like it will just be a "hefty fine," though. Whatever the punishment is determined to be, the actions of Erik Walden were unacceptable.