5. Cortland Finnegan, CB, St. Louis Rams
Cortland Finnegan, who recently signed a massive five-year deal with the St. Louis Rams after becoming a Pro Bowl cornerback with the Tennessee Titans, would love to be called the NFL's dirtiest player (as he has once declared). Don't let his diminutive stature (5-foot-9, 190 pounds) fool you; he's one pesky, annoying man. Heck, everyone remembers the Andre Johnson incident during the 2010 regular season. Finnegan annoyed the soft-spoken, usually calm Johnson to the point where fists were thrown and punches were connected. Johnson may have won the fist fight, but Finnegan got in his head nonetheless. And that's just what he does: plays head-games with his opponents. While it might not be entirely dirty by definition, there are many other instances of foul play, particularly in recent years.
For example, in September 2010, Finnegan was fined $5,000 for throwing then-New York Giants WR Steve Smith to the ground by his helmet. In October 2010, he was fined $10,000 for unnecessary roughness for hitting Denver Broncos OG Chris Kuper after his helmet was off his head. He was warned about his wrong doings by the NFL after this incident, but one month later, Finnegan continued his dirty antics with the Andre Johnson brawl. Regardless, these are only a few of the documented instances of dirty play committed by Finnegan. Of course, I'm sure we'll see more of it in St. Louis.
4. Bernard Pollard, SS, Baltimore Ravens
Former Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans run-stopping safety Bernard "The Bonecrusher" Pollard deserves a spot on this list. Maybe it's because I'm a Patriots fan; Pollard has single handedly become the "Patriots Killer." Or, maybe it's because Pollard is simply a dirty, dirty player - just ask his fellow players. In any case, Pollard has earned a reputation amongst the NFL as a dirty player because he seems to injure the right players at the right time (Gregg Williams anyone?). Sure, Pollard is a big hitter and one of the strongest tacklers of any defensive back in the league, but there's a fine line between driving your shoulder into someone's chest and hitting a quarterback below the knees.
Pollard famously ended Tom Brady's 2008 season on opening day when he blitzed from inside the box, breaking through the offensive line, and delivering a nasty blow beneath the hips. Brady's knee buckled in an ugly fashion, tearing his ACL and MCL, thus placing him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. But this isn't the end. In the 2009 regular season finale, Patriots' receiver Wes Welker caught a pass over the middle with Pollard on him. Pollard lunged at Welker, and as the slot man tried to move his legs out of the tackler's flight path, they buckled, consequently tearing his ACL, as well as losing his services for the playoffs. Again, in the 2012 postseason, Pollard attempted to tackle TE Rob Gronkowski when he swung himself awkwardly into Gronk's leg as he fell to the ground. Gronk sprained his ankle, wore a boot in the Super Bowl, and was subsequently ineffective throughout that game. In a nutshell: Three different teams (KC, HOU, BAL), three different Patriots (Brady, Welker, Gronk), and three Super Bowl hopes dashed away by one player: Bernard Pollard. Thanks man.
3. Brandon Meriweather, FS, Washington Redskins
Speaking of the New England Patriots and their former players, FS Brandon Meriweather is more of a "thug" than a "football player." If you back to his glory days at "The U," you might remember his role in the infamous stomping incident known as the Miami-FIU brawl of 2006, in which Meriweather literally kicked-in heads. Or you might recall his involvement in the shooting of a teammate. Although his off-field news is nonexistent since his entry into the NFL, Meriweather has repeatedly been fined for various illegal hits. In week six of the 2010 regular season, Meriweather was penalized for a dirty helmet-to-helmet hit on former Ravens' tight end Todd Heap, launching intentionally at his head and nothing else. He was fined $50,000 for the hit, and arguably initiated the present crackdown on high hits on defenseless receivers. He also was fined $20,000 in 2011 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith. In sum, he has accumulated over $100,000 in fines over his six year career. Don't let his two Pro Bowl selections fool you: Meriweather is more of a dud than a stud.
2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions
In less than three years, the immensely talented defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has gone from the best defensive player in college football to the best defensive rookie in the NFL to the dirtiest player in the NFL (voted on by his "peers"). In just two meager seasons, Suh has become one of the most dominant, productive defensive lineman in the NFL. At the same time, he has become one of the most feared. Answering the question, "why," is difficult, however. For obvious reasons, his size, demeanor, and high-motor contribute. But also the fact that he will literally tear someone's head off is another reason.
The media and fans alike have also jumped on the "Suh is dirty" train. In his first two years in the league, he has been fined a total of $50,000 by the league for three major violations - and these don't include the stuff that happens under the pile and in the trenches. To put things in perspective, Suh has been flagged for nine personal fouls in this time span, the most of any player in the league. Then, of course, is the Thanksgiving Day game stomping incident against the then-undefeated Green Bay Packers. Suh pushed Packers' offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith's head into the ground three times, then stomped on his arm. All of this took place after the whistle was blown. Suh was then penalized for unnecessary roughness and ejected from the game. Yet after the game, Suh said he didn't do it on purpose and did not hold himself accountable for his actions. As a result, Suh was suspended without pay for two games. The fact remains, however: If Suh smartens up, he is unquestionably the best interior defensive lineman in the NFL.
1. James Harrison, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
James Harrison isn't just dirty in the way he performs, he most certainly looks
like a dirty player as well. I can't help but look at him and think, "Wow, this guy will kill me in a back alleyway." That's simply what happens when you don't smile and appear to be pissed off all the time. It is what it is. Like Suh, however, Harrison is one of the best in the game at his position. But that doesn't give you the green light to go and threaten others' careers. And like Meriweather, if we go back to his high school and college glory days, you will see a familiar trend: Harrison was immature, made obscene gestures to fans, and brought a BB gun to the team locker room. Some things just don't change (See dog bite incident, arrest, and gay slur controversy).
In the NFL, Harrison has been fined for various illegalities. He loves to spear people, he loves helmet-to-helmet contact, and he is seemingly always in position to intentionally hurt someone. Before Suh, Harrison was the hot topic of NFL circles. He has met with commissioner Roger Goodell on numerous occasions. Rather than get into specifics (considering there are an incredible of amount of instances in which Harrison has been fined, penalized, or criticized), here is a number that says something: In the 2010 regular season alone
, Harrison was fined over $120,000. My reaction: Wow. With that being said, I love the way Harrison and these other members of the list play football (that is, in terms of their aggressiveness and passion), but there is no room for some of the dirty antics and tactics that they have displayed throughout their careers. Patrick Willis is the best inside linebacker in the league right now, and he hits harder than most, but do you see him getting flagged for illegal hits? No. There's a right way to play the game, and a wrong way, and as we are seeing with the Bounty Gate scandal, you will pay the price if its the latter.