Kiszla vs. Gabriel: Has safety Kareem Jackson become too dangerous to play for Broncos?

Kiz: Coming off a suspension by the NFL for illegal hits, Broncos safety Kareem Jackson would have to be a complete knucklehead to continue tackling with the crown of his helmet. Yet there he was against Minnesota, lowering his head to blast Vikings quarterback Josh Dobbs on the game’s opening series. Although no flag was thrown on the play, there’s no doubt in my mind Jackson deserves a fine and another suspension. Has his repeated run-ins with league authorities made Jackson too much of a safety risk for the Broncos to trust on the field?

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Gabriel: Opposing teams certainly are going to think so, Kiz. After all, both Las Vegas receiver Jakobi Meyers and Washington tight end Logan Thomas were diagnosed with concussions after hits from Jackson in the season’s opening two weeks. Those two, more than the final straw against Green Bay’s Luke Musgrave, are the ones that compelled the NFL to go big on its initial suspension ruling. But here’s the thing: It’s not just the safety risk for Denver. It’s also the game risk. If he gets flagged against Minnesota — how the heck did he not? — the Broncos’ first turnover gets wiped off the board and the game might unfold entirely differently.

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Kiz: While Jackson might be a good man beloved by his teammates, if you are what you do, he has by definition become a dirty player. While old-school fans might lament how a violent game has gone soft, when Jackson complains there’s nothing black and white in the rules about what constitutes an illegal hit, that’s a load of hooey. The helmet cannot be used as a weapon. If the league is serious about reducing head injuries to address the long-term ill effects of concussions, the way Jackson plays football is disrespectful and dangerous to his NFL brothers.

Gabriel: On one hand, there is a ton of subjectivity in what gets called and what doesn’t. And the league certainly has drawn its share of ire not just from Jackson and the Broncos, but from many around the league in terms of how they adjudicate and levy fines against players. I even buy Justin Simmons’ argument that the league went overboard in giving Jackson a four-game suspension initially to ensure it got multiple games on appeal. That’s all fair. But so is this: No matter the level of football or the situation, planting both of your feet in the ground and then launching up and leading with your helmet is asking for injury and for punishment. In the eyes of officials, it’s academic whether you sort of hit the upper chest or if the first contact is the helmet against the facemask. It’s still a dangerous hit.

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Kiz: Sorry, but I refuse to mealy mouth my take on Jackson. The Denver defense did not miss him while he served a two-game suspension. If he can’t get it through his skull that heads-up tackling is the way defense needs to be played in 2023, whatever punishment might await Jackson from the NFL is not nearly as important as how the Broncos deal with this chronic headache. A team making a longshot run at the playoffs can’t be derailed by a dumb penalty for an illegal hit or the possibility Jackson could be suspended again for his next tackle. It’s time for Denver to move on from him as a starter.

Gabriel: One caveat here, Kiz, just from a football perspective. The Broncos didn’t miss Jackson for those two games because P.J. Locke was healthy and available. If Locke, who missed Sunday night’s game with an ankle injury, misses more time going forward, Jackson’s absence would be felt. They’re already down Caden Sterns for the season and Locke’s been in and out of the lineup. Though Jackson at this point brings his own risk level to the equation, the Broncos have struggled when they’ve had to rely on Delarrin Turner-Yell for long stretches defensively.

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