Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was docked $75,000 on Tuesday, while New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather and Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson will lose $50,000 each.
In the past, players were either fined or ejected for illegal hits. However, after the series of recent flagrant tackles, several of which resulted in concussions, the NFL ramped up the punishment.
Football operations chief Ray Anderson indicated the suspensions could start immediately - that is, involving play from last weekend's games. However, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league wanted to give teams fair warning and would send a memo Wednesday, outlining the changes.
Ravens tight end Todd Heap took a vicious hit from Meriweather that Heap called "one of those hits that shouldn't happen." Robinson and the Eagles' DeSean Jackson were knocked out of their game after a frightening collision in which Robinson launched himself head first to make a tackle. Both sustained concussions.
Harrison was punished for his hit on Mohamed Massaquoi. His hit on Joshua Cribbs did not figure in the fine, although it also caused a concussion; the league said Monday it was permissible.
Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, called the fine "staggering" and said it would be appealed. He emphasized that neither play drew a penalty.
"I've talked to James, and he's very upset," Parise said. "He's quite confused about how to play football."
The league noted Harrison is a repeat offender; he was fined $5,000 for unnecessary roughness in Pittsburgh's win over Tennessee on Sept. 19.
In letters to the three players, Anderson said: "Future offenses will result in an escalation of fines up to and including suspension."
Massaquoi's agent, Brian Ayrault, didn't think the league was tough enough on Harrison.
"Harrison has made $20 million over the past three years, and they only fined him $75,000?" he said. "To me, that's not going to be a deterrent. The Browns are probably going to be without a starter this week. I don't think that fine is a deterrent or fair to competitive balance.
"The punishment did not fit the crime."
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith wouldn't directly answer whether the league had consulted with the union before toughening up the penalties, saying simply that he talked to Commissioner Roger Goodell every day.
"We are going to look at this issue along with the league," Smith said at an event in St. Paul, Minn. "I am for anything that keeps our players safer. But at the same time, I don't look at everything in a simple microcosm."
Browns president Mike Holmgren said it was important to have game video reviewed by officials familiar with the nuances of tackling.
"I think most of the time you can look at a play as a coach and say, 'You know what? That didn't have to happen,"' said Holmgren, the former Seattle and Green Bay coach. "And then sometimes you look at a play and say, 'Unavoidable. It was just one of those things.'
"I don't know if they are going to make that distinction yet, and I think it's a very important distinction."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin favored stricter enforcement of helmet hits, although he still thought Harrison's tackle on Massaquoi was legal.
"I think we need to safeguard the men that play this game to the best of our abilities and make it as safe as we can," he said. The men being safeguarded didn't necessarily agree. Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards predicted players wouldn't change how they hit.
"If we get fined, we get fined," he said. "But the suspension stuff? That's taking it a little too far. I mean, it is football. We all signed up to play this game. Things happen. You can't alter the way you play the game. Sometimes that's how you get touchdowns."
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writers Jon Krawczynski in St. Paul, Minn., Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh and Tom Withers in Berea, Ohio, contributed to this story.