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NFL Fines and Suspensions Since 2002: Ballers Behaving Badly

Doug Baldwin

With the Patriots‘ stunning Super Bowl win over the Seahawks on Sunday, an NFL season rife with controversy comes to a close. From domestic violence, to drug and alcohol abuse, to Marshawn Lynch’s crotch grabs and anti-interviews to Deflategate, the league had a fair share of punishment to hand out this year. Typical misbehavior results in hefty fines and suspensions, which is what I’ll be taking a closer look at in this article. We’ll see who’s misbehaved the most, who’s received the largest penalties, take a look at some unique scenarios, and more. Enjoy.


What Warrants Punishment From the NFL?

Since 2002, NFL players have forfeited more than $91 million due to fines and suspensions. About $17 million came from actual fines, while the rest of that $91 million is money missed out on during suspensions. Below, a quick look at the different reasons for fines in the NFL.

The NFL, above all else, wants to protect quarterbacks. As starting caliber QBs are hard to come by, this should come as no shock. For this reason, roughing the passer penalties sit unsurprisingly atop the list as the most frequent reason for a fine in the NFL. Many times in the case of this particular offense, refs have itchy trigger fingers, resulting in some bad calls. Bad calls or not, there have been more than 203 instances since 2002 resulting in $2.86 million in fines. The next most common penalty, the late hit, occurred nearly 100 fewer times, incurring a total penalty of $1.08 million.

After that, we’ve got suspensions. which have cost players some serious cash over the years.

If Ricky Williams didn’t convince you, allow Josh Gordon, Dwayne Bowe, Justin Blackmon, Jerome Simpson, LeGarrette Blount, Le’Veon Bell, and so many others to prove that the NFL takes the occasional toke very seriously. The league has handed out over 116 substance abuse related suspensions since 2002, costing players more than $38 million dollars. The offense responsible for the second-most suspensions is PED use. Even this has resulted in about half as many suspensions, for half as many games, and have the amount of money lost.

Who Does the NFL Punish?

First, we’ll take a look at the individual players who’ve found themselves in trouble the most over the years. Below, the most-fined players since 2002.

Jamal Lewis, thanks to his guilty plea on some drug charges regarding the intent to distribute 5 kilos of cocaine, was fined $760,000. The largest fine against a player in NFL history. That fine alone makes him the player fined the most money in our study. Ndamukong Suh on the other hand, accrued the second largest total fine amount in our study by way of 9 individual fines. Of those nine fines, three were blatantly illegal strikes, the most costly of which was the stomp on Evan Dietrich-Smith for $164,000. Four were roughing the passer penalties for a total of $74,000, one was a $100,000 low block fine, and one was a $7,875 taunting fine.

The only player that has received more fines than Suh is Cortland Finnegan, with 10. His rap sheet includes three fighting penalties, two face masks, two late hits, a face mask, a roughing the passer, and an unsportsmanlike conduct.

On to the even more costly punishment, player suspensions.

Redskins safety Tanard Jackson takes the top spot as far as suspended players go. He has been suspended four times, each time for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He is currently serving his second indefinite suspension, which he received in July of 2014.

Packers defensive end Johnny Jolly received the largest single suspension in our study. In 2010, he was suspended indefinitely when he was arrested for possession with intent to distribute at least 200 grams of codeine. Later, he would be arrested and charged for possession with to distribute at least 600 grams of codeine. His license was also suspended at the time. He was arrested and charged again that same year for possession of codeine and tampering with evidence. All in all, Jolly was suspended for 48 games.

Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington lost the most money due to a single suspension – $3,000,000 during a 16-game suspension.

We know which players have been disciplined the most…now how bout we take a look at which positions seem to attract the most trouble. Below, the most fined NFL Positions since 2002.

Those playing the safety position have received more fines than any other position in the NFL. Of the 183 fines accrued by NFL safeties over the years, 47 have been for a hit on a defenseless player, 33 were for helmet-to-helmet hits, and 20 were for roughing the passer. As for the second-most fined position, defensive end, 61 out of 138 fines were for roughing the passer. The next most common fine for defensive ends is the late hit which accounts for 14 out of the 138 defensive end fines since 2002.

Defensive tackles have been fined the second-highest amount at$2,157,563. Ndamukong Suh received three of the top five largest fines against DTs since 2002, and seven of the top 15. Warren Sapp, Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork are the only other players to find themselves in the top 15 more than once – each of them are there twice.

On to the most suspended NFL positions.

Wide receivers are the most-suspended position in the NFL since 2002. 24 out of their 35 suspensions have been for substance abuse. Of those 24 substance abuse violations, at least 16 were marijuana-related. Dwayne Bowe, Justin Blackmon, Josh Gordon and Jerome Simpson are all repeat offenders of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

The second-most suspended position is running back. Only 12 out of 26 running back suspensions were substance abuse related, but perhaps the most famous substance abuse story in the history of the NFL involved running back Ricky Williams. Despite four failed drug tests an early retirement and improbable return, Williams ended his career shortly after becoming the 26th running back in the history of the NFL to reach the 10,000 yard club.

Outside linebackers have lost $10,445,682 to NFL suspensions – more than any other position. OLBs with suspensions that cost them more than a million are the Niners’ Aldon Smith ($2,422,972), the Colts’ Robert Mathis ($2,058,822) and the Saints’ Will Smith ($1,619,377 and $1,411,764). Ouch.

Onwards to the team statistics. Below, every team ranked by the number of player fines since 2002.


The Tennessee Titans lead the league in number of fines since 2002 with 68. That’s 56 more than the least-fined team, the Kansas City Chiefs. The team with the largest amount of money fined is the Baltimore Ravens. They have 8 fewer fines than the Titans, but nearly $1 million more in fines. Much of their total comes from the largest player fine in NFL history – $760,000 against Jamal Lewis. The Ravens are the only team to break the $1 million mark. The next-closest team is the Detroit Lions with $970,437. Nearly half of their fines came from Ndamukong Suh ($445,875).

Now for team suspension data.

Team Suspension Details

With 13 suspensions for 71 games, no team has been hit harder by suspensions than the Washington Redskins since 2002. The best argument would be for the Carolina Panthers, who’ve received 11 suspensions for a total 79 games. Suspended Denver Broncos players have missed out on the most money thanks to their suspensions. Specifically, DJ Williams ($1,729,411), Wes Welker ($941,176), and Matt Prater ($897,058) lost sizable portions of their salary to suspensions.


That’s all I’ve got for this post. I hope you enjoyed it! Hit me up on Twitter @andrewpomo and @seatsmart. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments, and if you have any specific data requests, don’t hesitate to write me at


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