It’s hard to call it hypocrisy. That word isn’t quite right. Not in this circumstance, at least.

Although this particular circumstance is emblematic of the wider discipline culture — the double standard, if you will — in the National Football League, not just with the league and its teams but with fans and hometown media as well.

Late Monday we learned that the league — self-managed arbiters of all fines and suspensions levied across the NFL for everything from late hits to kneeling to PED violations to personal conduct — has suspended Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib two games without pay for his involvement in an on-field fight Sunday with Oakland Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

The Broncos, according to head coach Vance Joseph, will apply no additional discipline against the All-Pro cornerback.

Therein lies the double standard.

The Broncos bookended their Thanksgiving weekend with wholly different treatment of a pair of cornerbacks — one who violated league rules in a very public display on the playing field, the other who reportedly violated team rules behind closed doors.

A quick refresher for anyone whose Thanksgiving food coma might have carried well past the official holiday:

On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, the Denver Broncos released 2015 fifth-round draft pick Lorenzo Doss. Multiple reports cited Doss’ late arrival to a team meeting (one report suggested it was an “occasional” problem) as the reason for his release.

Officially, Joseph told the media “We’re just trying to get better as a football team. Simply put.”

On Sunday Talib was immediately ejected from the game following the altercation with Crabtree, an event that has been building over several years between the two players. Last season Talib infamously ripped a gold chain from Crabtree’s neck while on the field of play in Denver’s New Year’s Day victory over Oakland in the season finale. Sunday’s fight came on the play immediately following Crabtree issuing what looks on film to be a sucker punch to the gut of fellow All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris Jr. On the very next snap Talib lined up opposite Crabtree and the two tangled in an aggressive block that resulted in the cornerback again ripping a chain from the receiver’s neck, the two wrestling one another to the ground and then eventually trading punches as the fight moved across the field and expanded to include multiple players, coaches and even a referee.

Joseph said on Monday before the suspension was handed down, “I’ll say this: I’m not sure how it all started. If the league steps in and they hand something down that’s their decision. Internally, no [there won’t be additional discipline] because I’m not sure how it all started.”

Don’t expect Oakland to sit Crabtree, their top wideout, any longer than necessary either.

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio publicly questioned the NFL’s degree of punishment, comparing it to the Week 9 altercation between Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey, which resulted in no additional suspensions.

Doss, who saw mostly special teams action in three games this season and was inactive for seven, was waived. Talib will return to the starting lineup as soon as the league sees fit.

Such is the double standard on an NFL roster for depth corners versus All-Pros, in Denver and across the league. But the double standard doesn’t end with those who collect paychecks “protecting the shield.”


Video of the Talib-Crabtree fight circulated widely across the Internet in the moments that followed the incident. Talib could be seen ripping of Crabtree’s helmet and throwing it in his direction. Crabtree grabbed and twisted Talib’s facemask. Various camera angles displayed Talib and Crabtree throwing punches; it’s unclear who threw the first actual punch, but there is evidence to suggest it may have been Talib. Both players were immediately disqualified. Oakland’s starting right guard Gabe Jackson was also ejected for contact with an official.

It was an ugly display by a pair of teams enduring ugly seasons.

Seeing it play out on national television both during the game and in highlights afterward, not to mention on the web, had some fans and Sorry – this audio content is no longer available. calling for Talib’s dismissal from the team, either via outright release or by trade this offseason.

Both of those scenarios remain possibilities for the firebrand defensive back who will turn 32 this offseason. His release would free up $11 million in cap space in 2018 (costing the Broncos $1 million in dead money) according to Spotrac, but relieve them of a player who has caused the team negative press for three consecutive seasons. Still, Talib remains one of the top cornerbacks in the league. As recently as Week 8 of this season Talib was named the No. 1 corner in the NFL by Ike Taylor in his weekly rankings.

How different would things be perceived had Sunday’s game played out differently?

Had the Broncos and Raiders entered the game with, say, a 7-3 record instead of 3-7, they would be atop the AFC West and fighting for a playoff spot. The dialogue would instead be about how important it is that a team captain and leader of the “No Fly Zone” get back on the field for the stretch run, not about his antics having run their course in Denver.

Had the on-field skirmish spurred a Denver win instead of Derek Carr picking on Talib’s replacement (rookie Brendan Langley) en route to a seventh-straight Broncos loss, we might well be praising Talib’s “fighting” spirit for inspiring his team to a victory.

Talib’s on- and off-field transgressions are well documented. They also serve as direct evidence of this double standard.

Fans and the hometown media were exasperated with Talib in 2015 when his “eye poke” of Dwayne Allen effectively handed a close game to the Colts. (He was suspended one game, which he served the next week after losing an appeal. The Broncos lost that game to Kansas City.)

We — Mile High Sports included — had fewer qualms with his two major penalties in Super Bowl 50 (a taunting penalty after a sack and a face mask penalty that prevented a touchdown) after the Denver defense dispatched of Cam Newton and the Panthers to help deliver the Broncos’ third world championship.

Everyone was surprisingly forgiving of the 2016 self-shooting incident in Dallas, which caused Talib to miss the team’s trip to the White House that offseason, after it was announced that he would not face disciplinary action (despite previous gun-related incidents during his NFL tenure). It’s no coincidence that attitude came when the Broncos were still considered a contender in the AFC West.

We are proving less forgiving now that the Broncos are 3-8, out of the playoff picture and another key member of the No Fly Zone, T.J. Ward, is plying his trade in Tampa after his release earlier this season.

We’re not alone here in Denver.

Fans in Oakland were slinging just as many arrows at Talib as Broncos fans were at Crabtree, not to mention their collective vitriol towards the league. The NFL’s punishment division (not an official league department, by the way), has few friends.


On Thanksgiving Day several outlets reported that Broncos general manager John Elway spoke with Talib privately after a combustible practice that saw Harris engage in a heated scuffle with rookie teammate Isaiah McKenzie. The conversation with Talib came after Elway huddled with Joseph, director of player personnel Matt Russell and executive vice president of public & community relations Patrick Smyth. The details of that conversation were not revealed, but it’s safe to assume based on the reports that it had to do more with the infighting that was occurring on the practice field than it was Elway issuing a warning about avoiding another incident with Crabtree ahead of Sunday’s game.

Following the game Joseph called the fight between Talib and Crabtree “unacceptable.”

“We can’t lose our best players because of personal battles. That’s a personal battle. This is about the Broncos, so it’s unacceptable. We can’t have it. It’s nonnegotiable,” the head coach said.


When pressed, specifically on if there would be further discipline levied beyond the ejection, Joseph was less committal.

“Well, we’ll see,” he said. “I didn’t see the whole play. Right now, I’m dealing with the result of what happened and both teams lost two of their best players. It’s nonsense. It’s silly so I don’t know what exactly happened but I know it can’t happen to our football team especially.”

The league has levied it’s punishment. Joseph and the front office have seen the tape. The fans and media have weighed in.

Talib will be in the starting lineup in three weeks (or sooner pending his appeal). Doss, meanwhile, won’t see another game check from the Denver Broncos (unless they call him in desperation to fill Talib’s void).

Nonnegotiable? Apparently not if you’re an All-Pro, and especially not if the Broncos were still in the hunt.

That’s the double standard of NFL discipline, and we all share the blame.