The history of the National Football League (NFL) is marked by several significant financial penalties, but the largest fine in NFL history was imposed on Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson was fined a staggering $5 million for violating NFL conduct guidelines, making it the largest individual fine in the league's history. This penalty was so substantial that it also ranks as the second-largest fine ever handed out in the NFL, whether to an entity or an individual.
Before Watson's record-breaking fine, the largest individual fine was imposed on the head coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick. In 2007, Belichick was fined $500,000 due to the Spygate scandal, which involved illegally videotaping the hand signals of their opponents. The Patriots were also penalized with a $250,000 fine and lost a first-round pick.
Other notable fines include a $1 million penalty against Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, who pleaded guilty to a felony charge in a Louisiana gambling scandal in 1999. Additionally, Jamal Lewis, one of only eight running backs in NFL history to record a season with more than 2,000 rushing yards, was fined $760,000 by the league after pleading guilty to federal drug possession charges in 2004.
In terms of team fines, the New Orleans Saints were notably penalized for their Bountygate scandal, which involved a reward program for players who injured opponents. The Washington Commanders were also fined for creating a hostile work environment.
Despite these hefty fines, the NFL has faced criticism for not imposing harsher punishments, such as suspensions. For instance, many believed that a fine wasn't enough for Suh, who was fined $100,000, the largest on-field fine in NFL history, but avoided suspension despite public outcry.