The Pittsburgh Steelers have been dealing with injuries in the middle of their defense for more than a month. They will now have to overcome a suspension to safety Damontae Kazee as well.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported on December 18 that the league has suspended Kazee for the remainder of the 2023 season.
“The NFL is suspending Steelers safety Damontae Kazee without pay for the remainder of the regular season and any potential postseason games for repeated violations of playing rules intended to protect the health and safety of players,” tweeted Pelissero on X (formerly Twitter).
The NFL is suspending #Steelers safety Damontae Kazee without pay for the remainder of the regular season and any potential postseason games for repeated violations of playing rules intended to protect the health and safety of players.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 18, 2023
In a press release, NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan issued “that the suspension for a violation of Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9 (b)(1).”
That rule states it is a penalty “if a player ‘forcibly hits the defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemark, forearm or shoulder, even if the initial contact is lower than the player’s neck, and regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him.’”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted a copy of the press release.
“The announcement on the season-long suspension of Steelers’ safety Damontae Kazee,” wrote Schefter.
The announcement on the season-long suspension of Steelers’ safety Damontae Kazee: pic.twitter.com/TFjslvhGgp
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 18, 2023
Kazee received his suspension for his violent helmet-to-helmet hit against Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. Officials called Kazee for a 15-yard penalty and ejected him for the play.
Pittman missed the rest of the game with a concussion.
Pittman is in concussion protocol.
Kazee, who can appeal his suspension, is done for the season. pic.twitter.com/sTQc2kS33L
— James Boyd (@RomeovilleKid) December 18, 2023
Members of Steelers media found the indefinite suspension absurd.
“Damontae Kazee suspended for the rest of the season without pay for his hit on Michael Pittman,” The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly wrote. “Excuse my language, but that’s bulls***.”
Damontae Kazee suspended for the rest of the season without pay for his hit on Michael Pittman. Excuse my language, but that's bullshit.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) December 18, 2023
Kaboly reported that Kazee will appeal his suspension.
Steelers Media Outraged Over Length of Damontae Kazee’s Suspension
Other media members who cover the Steelers were not quite as direct as Kaboly but were equally shocked at the league’s decision to suspend Kazee for the rest of the season.
“This is insane,” The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette’s Christopher Carter posted on X.
Steelers Depot’s Alex Kozora didn’t share his immediate reaction but argued on X that Kazee’s suspension should be reduced after his appeal.
“I’m going to guess Kazee will win his appeal,” Kozora posted on X. “But without an actual game number placed by the league (indefinite suspension, including playoffs), I’m not sure what the appeal will go down to.
“Two games, is my guess.”
I'm going to guess Kazee will win his appeal. But without an actual game number placed by the league (indefinite suspension, including playoffs), I'm not sure what the appeal will go down to.
Two games, is my guess. #Steelers
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 18, 2023
Kazee’s suspension also shocked members of the national NFL media. ESPN’s Colts reporter Stephen Holder tweeted “wow” to initially hearing about the suspension.
Kazee Suspended Because of His ‘Repeat’ Offenses
Runyan noted in his press release that Kazee received his suspension for “multiple prior violations to protect the health and safety of players.”
Kazee’s hit on Pittman was his first unnecessary roughness penalty of the season. But he had received five fines for unnecessary roughness during 2023 prior to Week 15.
All of those fines were for $11,806. Now counting his suspension, Kazee will lose 22% of his 2023 salary.
“Kazee has now been fined $267,363 this year or 22% of his 2023 salary,” wrote Kaboly.
Kazee has now been fined $267,363 this year or 22% of his 2023 salary.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) December 18, 2023
Mike Tomlin Defended Kazee Prior to Suspension
Tomlin held his December 18 press conference prior to the announcement of Kazee’s suspension. So the coach has yet to make his feelings about losing Kazee for the season public.
But Tomlin did defend Kazee’s reputation.
“Usually I talk about lowering the target,” Tomlin said of what coaching point he could use on Kazee’s hit that led to an ejection. “The target was low, and both guys were going. It was just unfortunate.
“I know he is not a dirty player. He doesn’t aspire to do some of the things that came to light under those circumstances. Sometimes, it’s just professional football today and how difficult it is to operate.
“But the National Football League is really clear, man. They put a hundred percent of the onus on the defender in those circumstances. It’s unfortunate, but we understand it.”
The Score’s Daniel Valente agreed but argued against the idea that the onus should be completely on the defender. Valente quoted retired quarterback Tom Brady and posted a picture of Kazee just prior to his hit on Pittman to prove the collision wasn’t just Kazee’s fault.
“‘I didn’t throw the ball to certain areas because I thought players were going to get knocked out. That’s the reality.’ – Tom Brady when ripping the NFL’s mediocrity.
“This was an absolute hospital ball. Multi-game suspension is crazy. QBs have to protect their guys too.”
"I didn't throw the ball to certain areas because I thought players were going to get knocked out. That's the reality." – Tom Brady when ripping the NFL's mediocrity.
— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) December 18, 2023
Without Kazee, the Steelers are left very thin at safety. All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Trenton Thompson also left Week 15 because of injuries.
Tomlin ruled out Fitzpatrick playing on December 23. Furthermore, veteran Keanu Neal remains on injured reserve.
The Steelers could be forced to start special-teams ace Miles Killebrew and a practice squad player at safety in Week 16.