It took awhile to get there, but NFL players are now held accountable for off-field transgressions involving domestic violence and assault.
Ray Rice was cut by the Ravens and has become an NFL outcast. Adrian Peterson essentially sat out the entire 2014 season for his transgression, as did Greg Hardy, who will also serve an additional 10-game suspension this year. And in addition to losing football privileges, all three players took a major hit to their reputation and marketability.
But the arrest last week of former 49ers and Bears defensive tackle Ray McDonald — his fourth since last May and first since signing a no-tolerance contract with the Bears in March — has raised an interesting question:
Should teams be held accountable too?
The Bears took a gamble on McDonald, knowing his history full well, and lost before McDonald even put on pads for the first time. The Bears signed McDonald in March after he gave a passionate plea to team chairman George McCaskey about turning his life around. McCaskey spoke with McDonald’s parents and was convinced that McDonald was a good kid who got himself into a few bad situations.
“What more could I have done?” McCaskey said last week as he took responsibility for the signing. “Is there somebody else we could have consulted with? Should I have taken more time to make a decision? I don’t know. We thought we had a good structure, a good support system. We thought we had safeguards in place in case something like this happened.”
Several media voices last week advocated a stiff penalty for teams that take a chance on players with serious off-field arrests — docking a draft pick. It was a topic discussed by the owners last fall as they sought to implement changes to the league’s personal conduct policy and domestic violence penalties, but one that didn’t receive enough support to pass.
But let’s take a step back for a minute and really examine the issue. Is this really what we want — giving Roger Goodell more disciplinary power?
That’s what this would be, of course — Goodell obtaining an even greater authority to investigate and punish. And his track record in this area over the last year is, well, not very good.
A former federal judge serving as neutral arbitrator overturned Goodell’s indefinite suspension of Rice as “arbitrary” and an “abuse of discretion.” A current federal judge vacated his suspension of Peterson. Last week, Hardy appealed his 10-game suspension. And of course, Goodell’s office levied historically harsh penalties — a four-game suspension to Tom Brady, a loss of a first-round pick for the Patriots and $1 million fine — based on incomplete evidence and shaky science.
Now we want/trust Goodell to dock draft picks and levy an appropriate punishment for signing a player with an arrest history?
The NFL did a lot of good in the wake of the Rice fiasco. It created mandatory educational programs for players and all league employees. It created response teams and support groups to help families with domestic issues. It provided more resources to underfunded domestic violence hotlines and resource centers. It increased the punishments for heinous crimes.
But since Goodell “got it wrong” with Rice’s lenient two-game suspension last year, he has gone too far in the other direction. And he has the full support from NFL owners to get tough against domestic violence.
“Domestic violence is a vexing social problem,” McCaskey said. “The NFL has had some high-profile cases, including this one. And the NFL, because it’s a leader in society, is called upon to take action, which we are doing.”
The NFL exists for two reasons: To entertain fans, and to make money. The industry is run by white collar executives with JDs and MBAs. Fans simply want a few hours of excitement and distraction each Sunday before resuming their daily lives. No one is asking the NFL to solve the world’s problems. Domestic violence will always be a serious issue in the United States, whether or not Goodell gets tough on players and teams. Vikings fans will go right back to cheering for Peterson this fall once he resumes scoring touchdowns, despite the horrific acts he did to his son.
Docking draft picks for signing players with arrest histories opens a giant Pandora’s box that NFL fans shouldn’t want opened. Do we really want Goodell deciding that Off-Field Transgression A is worth docking a second-round pick, but Off-Field Transgression B is worth a fifth-rounder? Anyone trust Goodell to rule fairly and without regard to public pressure?
The league would turn into an NFL version of “Minority Report,” where teams are afraid to sign players who might do something bad in the future. And it would eliminate a lot of talented players who messed up once or twice as young adults.
Certainly, some crimes are unforgivable. The NFL was absolutely correct in readjusting its penalties for domestic violence to a minimum six-game suspension if charged with a crime. No one is crying for Rice that his NFL career is likely over. But the NFL doesn’t need to attach additional penalties for the team, which would almost amount to double jeopardy for the player. If he serves his time, and if a team is willing to sign him, there’s no reason he shouldn’t get a second chance.
The Bears didn’t exactly get off scot-free last week. They took a gamble on McDonald, and suffered huge public embarrassment with this latest arrest. When a player is suspended, the team is penalized, too — it loses a quality player on the field and hurts its chances of winning. There can also be financial penalties involved. Rice counted $4.75 million against the salary cap last year, and $9.5 million in 2015, and doesn’t need to return one penny to the Ravens. McDonald was signed to a one-year deal with no guaranteed money, so it didn’t cost the Bears anything to cut him.
The Seahawks took a gamble by drafting Frank Clark in the second round after Clark had an ugly domestic violence arrest last November that got him kicked off Michigan’s football team. If Clark is arrested again, the Seahawks will come under fire from critics, and also lose out on any guaranteed money they pay to Clark. If Clark can turn his life around — he’s only 21, after all — then they got great value on a pass rusher. They weighed the risks and rewards, and made the call.
That call shouldn’t be made by Goodell, however. The last thing the NFL needs is for Goodell to have more power to prosecute and punish.
Holdouts, injuries put teams in a tough spot
As the offseason program kicks into full gear with the start of full-squad OTA practices, let’s take a look at the top stories around the league:
Holdouts: Technically it’s not a holdout yet, because OTAs aren’t mandatory under the collective bargaining agreement. But most players attend OTAs, and any absence is noticed.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been the most vocal about skipping OTAs, part of his campaign to make himself enough of a pest so the Vikings trade him to a team like the Cowboys or Cardinals. But despite his kicking and screaming, Peterson isn’t going anywhere.
“He’s not going to play for anybody else, and that’s just the way it’s going to be,” coach Mike Zimmer said last week. We’ll see if Peterson skips the mandatory minicamp next month, which would cost him $10,000 for the first day, $20,000 for the second, and $30,000 for the third.
Chargers safety Eric Weddle has also chosen to stay away while he seeks a contract extension (although Philip Rivers has seemingly changed his tune and now says he wants to finish his career with the Chargers). Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett is staying away as he seeks a new contract. Browns safety Tashaun Gipson is skipping OTAs and refuses to sign his restricted free agent tender, although the Browns can reduce the offer on June 15. Eagles guard Evan Mathis is skipping practices to seek a trade out of Philadelphia, James Ihedigbo returned to Lions practices last week after throwing a minor fit about outperforming his contract, and Ndomukong Suh showed up to Dolphins OTAs after skipping the weight room portion of the offseason program.
Injuries: Jaguars No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler tore his ACL in rookie minicamp this month, and the Broncos suffered a tough loss last week when left tackle Ryan Clady tore his ACL, ending his season. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is taking snaps but not throwing passes because of an injured right ring finger, Texans pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney is working in the weight room but not on the field yet after having microfracture knee surgery in December, and two players will be out for several months after suffering torn pectoral muscles — Vikings defensive end Brian Robison and Giants tackle Will Beatty. Broncos pass rusher Shane Ray, the No. 23 overall pick, is expected back on the field this week as he recovers from a turf toe injured at the end of last season.
PUTTING ON THINKING CAP
Patriots’ roster a study in contrasting values
Now that the Patriots have a full 90-man squad (with several moving parts at the bottom, of course), let’s take a look at the best and worst salary cap values on the team:
LB Jamie Collins ($1,025,728 cap number): Primed for a major breakout season in 2015 after an excellent sophomore campaign, and ranks 29th on the Patriots’ salary cap ledger. Not even eligible to restructure his contract until after the 2015 season.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo ($791,795): Still mostly an unproven commodity, but at minimum he’s at least a serviceable backup, which costs most teams $4 million-$5 million per year.
C Bryan Stork ($629,250): Established himself as an instant impact player last year as a fourth-round pick, and has the 44th-highest cap number on the team.
CB Malcolm Butler ($510,000): Last year’s Cinderella story is making league minimum for a second-year player. But as a former undrafted free agent, he’s allowed to renegotiate his contract after two seasons, whereas all draft picks must wait three seasons.
QB Tom Brady ($14 million): For a top two or three quarterback in the league, who just carried your team to a Super Bowl title, $14 million is chump change. Brady’s cap number is 15th-highest among NFL quarterbacks, behind players such as Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, and Joe Flacco. If Brady serves his four-game suspension, he’ll miss out on $1,882,352 of salary, reducing his cap number to $12,117,674.
WR Danny Amendola ($3,116,666): Even after slashing his pay this year, his cap number (12th-highest) is too high for a player who had a moderate impact on the offense.
LB Jerod Mayo ($6,100,000): Ditto for Mayo, who also had his pay slashed for this year, but has the fifth-highest number while coming off two injury-ruined seasons in a row.
S Tavon Wilson ($1,342,057): The light started to come on for Wilson last year, but he looks to be in serious trouble with his relatively high cap number and new second-round safety Jordan Richards on board.
Also of note: Interesting to see Brandon LaFell, signed for two more years and $5.3 million, changed agents recently to Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod, the same agents who represent Darrelle Revis. After a phenomenal 2014 season with the Patriots with career high numbers across the board, LaFell can make a good case for a new contract.
And don’t forget that the Patriots have a decision and likely a contract negotiation coming up with Rob Gronkowski. Gronk has a $10 million option bonus due on the last day of the 2015 league year (next March) that would trigger another four years and $37 million total.
‘Hard Knocks’ to have some rooting interests
The Texans being selected for HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this August should excite Patriots fans, who will get an up-close look at several former Patriots, including Bill O’Brien, Vince Wilfork, Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, and Mike Vrabel.
We’ll be looking forward to a few other story lines, as well: The return of Jadeveon Clowney, last year’s No. 1 overall pick who was thwarted by a hernia and a major knee injury; the return of tackle David Quessenberry, in remission from lymphoma; the spotlight on linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, the ex-Patriot who had brain surgery in 2011; and a good, old-fashioned quarterback battle between Hoyer and Mallett. The fact that they’re both ex-Patriots makes it even more fun.
Peterson lets loose
Bizarre Twitter rant from Adrian Peterson on Thursday, complaining about owners not holding up their end of contracts and justifying his desires to get a new contract and get out of Minnesota.
I know hundreds of player's that wished their team would've HONORED the contract! But instead got threw to the side like like trash.— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) May 28, 2015
He’s not wrong, but his beef is with the NFL Players Association, not the NFL. Where was Peterson during the 2011 lockout, or during the NFLPA executive director elections this March? That was the time to speak up.
Funny item from Sports Business Journal about Raiders owner Mark Davis scrapping plans to erect an eternal flame outside the proposed stadium in Carson, Calif., for his late father, Al Davis. Roger Goodell and the other 31 NFL owners weren’t exactly thrilled about honoring the man who sued the league several times and was a general pain in the rear end for everybody . . . Good post-career story for former Giants tackle Kareem McKenzie, who is pursuing a master’s degree and then a doctorate in professional counseling, with a goal of counseling professional athletes as well as retired members of the military . . . The NFL took a seemingly important step in concussion awareness by appointing Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, the president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, as the league’s chief health and medical advisor. But I find it interesting that this is only a one-day-per-month position, not a full-time job.
Quote of the week
“I’m not governed by the fear of what other people say.”
From who else but Eagles coach Chip Kelly, responding to a question about his team’s unusual roster moves this offseason, which included trading LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles, and signing Tim Tebow.