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Labriola on OLB depth, stock, fines

Ready or not, here it comes:

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The three days of the 2021 NFL Draft were completed, which meant the first wave of unrestricted free agency long had been over. Teams had picked through and signed the perceived prospects from the pool of undrafted college players, and some had completed their rookie minicamps.

The offseason program wouldn't hit the OTAs stage for another few weeks, but teams already were starting to get an initial picture of the depth chart they would take to training camp come late July. In Pittsburgh, the Steelers knew they had a hole to fill at outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense, and they weren't the only team shopping the bargain bins looking for help on the edge.

The Steelers' need was for depth at the position, because their starters were going to be two-time first-team All-Pro T.J. Watt and second-year pro Alex Highsmith. And even though they weren't in the market for a starter, they saw themselves as being in need of a third outside linebacker, both as a hedge against injuries and as a way to provide in-game breathers to the starters.

At the time, there seemed to be a pool of three viable candidates to fill the Steelers' need: Ryan Kerrigan, Melvin Ingram III, and Justin Houston, but there were other teams doing some shopping as well.

According to reports at the time, Kerrigan was the initial target, but he ended up choosing to sign with the Eagles, with some of the speculation at the time being he chose Philadelphia because it's an NFC East rival of his former employer, the Washington Football Team. That signing was announced on May 17. The Steelers made the next move and signed Ingram on July 19, which was shortly before they were to open training camp because of a date in the Hall of Fame Game vs. the Dallas Cowboys. The Ravens followed by signing Houston on Aug. 2.

Which team did the best job, got the best deal?

Starting with the order in which the players were signed, Kerrigan, 33, signed a one-year contract with the Eagles for $2.5 million. To date, Kerrigan has played in all 11 games for the Eagles this season, and he has been on the field for 233 defensive snaps, 31 percent of the team's total. To show for that playing time, Kerrigan has one tackle, two hits on the quarterback, and zeroes across the rest of the statistical board.

Ingram, 32, signed a one-year contract with the Steelers for $4 million, and while with the team he played in nine games with one start, and he was credited with one sack, one pass defensed, six hits on the quarterback, and 13 tackles in the 246 snaps he played, which represented 62 percent of the Steelers' total during that time. Since the trade to Kansas City, Ingram has played in all three of the Chiefs' games, been on the field for 94 defensive snaps (51 percent of the team's total) and contributed three tackles, with zeroes across the rest of the statistical board.

Houston, 32, signed a one-year, $2.1 million contract with the Ravens. So far this season, he has started nine of the team's 10 games – he didn't play in Detroit on Sept. 26 because he was on the COVID list – and has been on the field for 343 defensive snaps (60 percent of the team's total). Houston has contributed 20 tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble, and 15 hits on the quarterback.

Reports at the time were that the Steelers were close to signing Houston, but Houston ultimately selected the Ravens despite a lesser contract offer because of the playing time issue. He could start for Baltimore but was told he would be a reserve/rotational player in Pittsburgh.

Let the scorecard show that the Ravens are getting the most production, even though four sacks is a modest total for a starting edge rusher on a team that currently has 22 sacks to rank 17th in the NFL heading into Sunday's game vs. the Browns; and Houston deserves credit for not taking the highest offer when he knew the role that went along with wasn't going to make him happy.

And to the three participating teams: let the buyer beware. Or even better, use the draft next time.

The Green Bay Packers are unique when it comes to the NFL, because as a publicly owned corporation the Packers are permitted to sell stock. But the stock the Packers are selling isn't like shares of Amazon or Apple or AT&T. Once purchased this stock cannot be re-sold or traded. It doesn't appreciate in value. But then again, it also doesn't decrease in value. That's because it has no value.

It's a donation.

But that hasn't stopped Packers fans from sending their money to the team, at $300 a share, in exchange for something that may look good in a frame on the wall of a man cave or on an "ego-wall" in someone's office but otherwise is simply something that collects dust.

Starting on Nov. 16, the Packers began offering 300,000 shares of stock, and at $300 per share, the team has the potential to raise $90 million to use anyway the franchise sees fit. While the salary cap and the rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement governing player contracts prevent the team from using it on players, it can be used on salaries for non-players, for improvements to the facilities, and for things such as paying the $300,000 fine levied recently by the NFL for not enforcing Covid protocols as part of that whole Aaron Rodgers (immunized but not vaccinated) fiasco.

On the subject of NFL fines, it's not only what draws a fine that often is perplexing, but the amount of the fines often doesn't appear to punish the respective transgressions fairly.

Start with the case of second-year wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. According to ESPN, the NFL has fined the Cowboys wide receiver $25,750 for uniform violations so far in 2021, plus $10,815 for a crackback block, plus $10,300 for waving goodbye to a New England Patriots defender after scoring the decisive touchdown in Dallas' overtime victory.

That's $46,865 in fines for Lamb, and the only potentially serious violation was for the crackback block because that rule was implemented for player safety.

Let's move onto the case of Arizona linebacker Chandler Jones, who recently was fined $10,300 for his own version of a uniform violation.

When Jones broke the franchise sack record, he lifted his jersey to show a T-shirt that honored the previous record-holder, Freddie Joe Nunn. The holder of the franchise record for 29 years, Nunn had died on Oct. 16 at the age of 59. Reportedly, the Nunn family reached out to Jones afterwards to let him know how much the gesture meant to them.

Uniform violations cannot be tolerated, and players who choose to break those rules should expect to be fined. But so should players who deliberately violate the COVID protocols, which is what Rodgers did in lying about his vaccination status, when he attended a team Halloween party mask-less, and when he repeatedly conducted indoor news conferences mask-less.

Rodgers was fined $14,650.

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