It seems as though terrible things are happening on a daily basis in the NFL, that the Ray Rice video was just an omen for a hellish beginning to the 2014 season, but it’s really not that difficult to understand. Rice’s video was an eye-opener for fans, an opportunity for the media and perhaps an inspiration for some victims to speak out and help put a stop to this behavior.
What Rice did is reprehensible, but what the video has set off in the days since is encouraging. Because of the public outcry, certain players can’t skate by on “due process” after they’ve already been convicted and Roger Goodell can’t just ignore problems for the greater good of the NFL bottom line.
On the other hand, it’s still concerning when you consider how many teams currently employ at least one player or member of the front office who’s carrying some unwanted baggage. While Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy continue to make headlines, turns out, there’s plenty of bad press to go around.
Here are the 32 biggest problems facing the NFL’s 32 teams.
Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Dwyer
Seems like he’ll be joining that aforementioned trio on the NFL’s Mt. Rushmore of terrible people. According to police, Dwyer broke his wife’s nose after she refused to have sex with him and then he punched her in the face the following day. While the Cardinals may not have an “official” stance on domestic abuse prior to these allegations, they did sign running back Chris Rainey on September 9. Rainey has twice been kicked off teams over allegations of domestic violence. Arizona released him this week.
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Atlanta Falcons: William Moore
I want to say that the worst incident involving a Falcons player is the tinted windows of Roddy White, but safety William Moore was arrested for battery in 2013. On another unrelated note, TMZ broke a story in 2010 that running back Steven Jackson was being accused of beating up his pregnant girlfriend but charges were never filed. Jackson was with the Rams at the time, but it still counts.
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice
Sure, he’s not technically on the team anymore, but it took the release of that second video for Baltimore to finally part ways with Rice. And then there’s the existence of tweets like this and articles like this.
Buffalo Bills: Obscurity
I don’t have much to say about the Bills. That’s what happens when you haven’t made the playoffs since the Clinton administration. But on a list like this, that’s probably a good thing: Their biggest PR nightmare might be getting PR at all (here’s my interview with Sammy Watkins though). Of course, now that they’re 2-0, people may start paying attention, so can I introduce you to Marcell Darius, Tokyo Drift?
Carolina Panthers: Greg Hardy
This is a crazy sentence out of context, but we all know it’s true: Despite being found guilty of assaulting and threatening an ex-girlfriend, Greg Hardy would still be playing for the Panthers if it wasn’t for the Ray Rice video. Instead, Hardy is basically on a fully-paid vacation as he awaits his appeal and likely won’t play again this year.
Chicago Bears: Brandon Marshall’s skeletons
None of what was said about Marshall this week is news to anyone familiar with his history of violence, though give some small credit to the wide receiver for addressing his past mistakes openly. Then again, the best way to fight off a checkered past is to not have one in the first place.
Cincinnati Bengals: Vontaze Burfict’s on-field conduct
The Bengals were once known as one of the league’s worst offenders when it came to employing players with legal issues, but they’ve since cleaned up their act – off the field, anyway. Cincinnati signed Burfict after he went undrafted in 2012 (mostly due to testing positive for marijuana at the combine and getting an extremely high number of penalties at Arizona State) and he’s turned into one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL. Has he cleaned up his act? Not really. Burfict has 19 penalties in just over two years, including seven for unnecessary roughness.
Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel’s potential meltdown
Or maybe we call it a “Melt-Brown”? Manziel is a fascinating quarterback and an even more fascinating off-field personality. Maybe his antics are no big deal, but if Manziel is one day standing at a podium explaining some controversy, nobody should be surprised. Oh, and just in case you’d prefer to avoid hypotheticals: Josh Gordon’s had a pretty eventful season, and he hasn’t even played a down.
Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones’ behavior
Even if the sexual assault case against Jerry Jones is just a frivolous attempt to extort money from the billionaire, photos clearly show that he hasn’t exactly been a southern gentleman either. It’s not the image that the NFL wants to project, given that they once cracked down on something as simple as player celebrations like the ones made by former Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens.
Denver Broncos: Wes Welker’s Kentucky Derby party
“Has anyone seen Wes?”
“Yeah, he’s over in the paddock. He’s been rubbing his cheek against California Chrome for the last six hours and asking if horses talk to each other when people aren’t around.”
Detroit Lions: Nick Fairley, ongoing player issues
Things have been quiet lately, but in 2012, there were seven offseason arrests of Lions players, including Fairley, who was arrested twice, once for a DUI and evading police. Then there’s his fellow defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh, the heaviest-fined player in the league for his on-field actions. And every time you hear that Titus Young has been arrested again, his name will go right alongside “former Detroit Lions wide receiver.”
Green Bay Packers: Packers fans
In last Sunday’s 31-24 win over the Jets, eight people in the crowd were arrested and another 44 were ejected for “various misconduct violations.” Hey guys, I know it’s only the Jets, but you won. Be happy.
Houston Texans: Some ancient curse
As far as sports organizations go, the Texans keep their nose relatively clean – or so we think. Aside from malfeasance, what other explanation is there for the ongoing injury curse, which recently claimed No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, and has also taken down the likes of Brian Cushing, Mario Williams, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster. Burn some sage or something.
Indianapolis Colts: Jim Irsay
The frequently sweaty owner was fined $500,000 and suspended for six games after pleading guilty to a charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, though you could probably argue it was only a matter of time before he ran afoul of the NFL. He’s basically what would happen if you gave a 20-year-old frat guy a $1.6 billion bar tab and a professional sports team.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Blackmon, swimming pools
Justin Blackmon is one of only 11 players in history to have at least two games with 190 or more receiving yards in his first two seasons. And Blackmon only played in four games in his second season. It’s sad, then, that the talented wideout seems to be a lost cause at this point, having been suspended indefinitely for a second substance abuse violation, and then being arrested this past July for marijuana possession. Also, swimming pools don’t belong in pro football.
Kansas City Chiefs: Like half their team
Something is definitely up in KC. Dwayne Bowe was arrested last November and served a one-game suspension. Sean Smith was arrested for suspicion of DUI this year. Linemen Rokevious Watkins and Donald Stephenson are currently serving four game suspensions. I’m not sure exactly what kind of ship Andy Reid runs, but it doesn’t appear to be a tight one.
Miami Dolphins: Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito…still
Remember this one? It was the scandal before the scandal before the scandal. The Dolphins have rid themselves of Incognito and “parted ways” with general manager Jeff Ireland, but much of the coaching staff remains from the time of Martin’s meltdown. Maybe they hold no responsibility at all, but this was one of the biggest PR nightmares of 2013.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson
Since 2000, no team in the NFL has had more players arrested than the Vikings. And that chart was made before Peterson’s recent run-in with the law. In the week since, the Vikings have made several embarrassing missteps – deactivating Peterson, welcoming him back, then barring him from the team – and with the running back’s next hearing set for October 8, this storyline looks to continue throughout the season.
New England Patriots: Aaron Hernandez
Nobody could have predicted that Hernandez’s issues would devolve into the current murder allegations, but the fact remains that they not only existed, but were known to the Patriots. Hernandez associated himself with very bad people and New England associated themselves with Hernandez. That will never go away.
New Orleans Saints: Bountygate
Had former Saints player Steve Gleason not be the subject of a documentary about his battle with ALS, would we ever have heard of the Bountygate? Probably not, but that didn’t stop head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and several players from taking the fall. Payton and Loomis served suspensions, though both are currently still with the team.
New York Giants: Michael Boley, turning a blind eye
The Giants have employed players like Boley, Rocky Bernard and Plaxico Burress after domestic abuse allegations. Boley has also been arrested for child abuse. He played for the Giants into 2012 and was with the Bengals in 2013.
New York Jets: Quincy Enunwa
While several of the league’s star players are being accused of domestic abuse, this Jets practice squad receiver is in the same boat. Except nobody would really have second thoughts if New York just cut him right now.
Oakland Raiders: Football in general
Maybe we let Desmond Bryant’s historic mugshot be the end of Oakland’s off-field problems. Their biggest PR nightmare at the moment: Selling this football product to fans who would like to see something even mildly entertaining for the first time in 13 years.
Philadelphia Eagles: Lane Johnson, Jake Knott, PEDs
The Eagles currently have two players serving four game suspensions for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy, including Johnson, the fourth overall pick of the 2013 draft. Of course Philly isn’t the only team that has had to deal with players abusing performance-enhancing drugs – and that’s the problem.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger has twice been accused publicly of sexual assault, the second of which earned him a six game suspension (later reduced to four) in 2010. Being guilty in the court of public opinion is not the same as being guilty, but most players have avoided been accused of sexual misconduct even once.
San Diego Chargers: I guess Ryan Leaf?
I recently listed Mike McCoy’s team as the franchise that employs “the least amount of terrible people,” so where do I go for their worst PR nightmare? San Diego made a decision to draft Leaf and he immediately imploded, so did they ignore red flags because of his obvious talent? Those red flags will fly high every time he’s in the news again as “former Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf” for another arrest or probation violation.
San Francisco 49ers: Ray McDonald
Why wouldn’t the 49ers keep starting McDonald? After all, last season they continued to play Aldon Smith even when many people thought that was a bad idea, and now Smith is serving a nine-game suspension. No, McDonald has not had formal charges brought against him yet. Does that mean that the Patriots, had it been fall instead of summer, should have kept playing Aaron Hernandez until he was formally charged with murder?
Seattle Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch, Spencer Ware, DUIs
The Seahawks released Ware during final cuts this year, then almost immediately afterwards he was arrested for suspicion of DUI. Star running back Marshawn Lynch was arrested in 2012 for suspicion of DUI and he ended up pleading guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving shortly after winning the Super Bowl.
St. Louis Rams: Jo-Lonn Dunbar’s multiple issues
Dunbar has gone from an undrafted free agent to a regular starting linebacker for most of the last five years. He was suspended for four games in 2013 for violating the league’s PED rules, released by the Rams, arrested for a bar fight in July, re-signed by St. Louis and is currently starting at linebacker again.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, 56-14
Some teams would shy away from players in the draft who had crashed their SUV and then registered a 0.18 blood-alcohol content level, but Tampa Bay was willing to give the former star tight end from the University of Washington a second chance. Hopefully it turns out better than the second and third chances given to former UW and Tampa Bay tight end Jerramy Stevens. Oh, and they just lost 56-14 on Thursday Night Football, in game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
Tennessee Titans: Orson Charles
The Bengals drafted Charles in the fourth round in 2012, despite him being arrested for a DUI shortly before the draft. He was arrested again this past March in a road-rage incident that allegedly involved him brandishing a gun. Cincinnati let him go but the Titans apparently had no issue with the legal matters, signing him to their practice squad (though they’d subsequently release him).
Washington Redskins: Their name
The cases against players like Rice and Peterson involve behaviors that we, as a society, no longer accept. The same should be true about Washington’s offensive team name, and owner Daniel Snyder’s equally offensive reasoning that it somehow represents “deep and enduring values.” Heritage, not hate is an argument that plenty of other folks use, too.