Let’s be honest: It hasn’t exactly been easy to be an NFL fan lately.
It was bad enough when footage of Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator first came to light in February, but the league’s subsequent handling of the case (a two-game suspension?), tone-deaf response to criticisms from groups like the National Organization for Women and abrupt about-face when a second Rice tape has made public has pushed most reasonable fans to the brink.
(And I wrote this before the reports on late Friday that Vikings RB/former MVP Adrian Peterson had been indicted on child abuse charges in his home state of Texas.)
There’s also the matter of whether or not the NFL actually knew about that second tape when they handed out a two-game ban to Rice (hint: they totally did), and whether commissioner Roger Goodell should resign as a result of either A) incompetence; or B) malfeasance. But those are just the surface concerns – after all, the NFL’s track record when it comes to domestic violence is pretty lousy (to put it mildly).
Take, for example, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who was arrested on May 13 after he threw a former girlfriend to the ground, then threatened to kill her. He was found guilty in July and was given a 60-day suspended sentence. He’s appealed, and as such, the NFL hasn’t weighed in on his case, meaning Hardy got to play in Week 1 – registering a sack and a forced fumble.
He same goes for Ray McDonald, a defensive tackle for the San Francisco 49ers who was arrested September 1 on felony suspicion of domestic abuse charges, with police finding bruises on his pregnant wife. Head coach Jim Harbaugh declared the team had “no tolerance” for domestic abuse, but McDonald started the Niners’ Week 1 win over the Cowboys. He’s vowed that “the truth will come out” in regard to his charges, which may set some people’s minds at ease. Much like how Rice’s attorney said the same thing back in February, shortly after he was arrested.
In fact, since 2000, there have been more than 700 NFL players arrested, which kind of makes you wonder: Is this a league of bad men? The answer, of course, is no, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find teams who don’t have at least one player currently under suspension for breaking the law.
Out of the NFL’s franchises, 19 had one one player suspended in Week 1. The Dallas Cowboys had the most with three, including defensive tackle Josh Brent, convicted of intoxication manslaughter after a drunk-driving accident killed teammate Jerry Brown in 2012. Brent retired for one year then returned, hoping the league would forget about suspension because of his self-imposed hiatus. They didn’t, and Brent was suspended for 10 games, which Jerry Jones thought was too long. Oh, and don’t forget about the recent sexual assaulted allegations against Jones himself.
So who’s left? The 13 teams who actually didn’t have a suspended player on their roster for the first week of 2014 were the Jets, Steelers, Texans, Titans, Raiders, Chargers, Packers, Bears, Lions, Saints, Falcons, Bucs and Seahawks.
Of course, several of those teams still have spotty recent histories. The Saints regime is still littered with personnel, coaches and players that were involved in or at least around for the Bounty Scandal. And the Seahawks had several players – including star corner Richard Sherman – accused of using performance-enhancing drugs in 2012. Specifically, Adderall. Sherman appealed and won his suspension, while teammate Brandon Browner served his. The following year Browner was suspended again, after testing positive for marijuana, and he’s currently serving that four-game suspension with the New England Patriots.
I could also not in good consciousness let the Lions slide on this one, since defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has been fined over $200,000 for various dirty and dangerous actions throughout his career. In addition to that, outside linebacker Travis Lewis was suspended for four games last season for using performance-enhancing drugs and is still on the team.
That leaves 10.
The Titans signed safety Bernard Pollard last year and have retained him, even after he was fined three times in 2013 for hits and penalties, including a $42,000 fine after giving Texans receiver Andre Johnson a concussion. Pollard said his “reputation” must have had something to do with the fine, which is a reputation that Tennessee is fine with. Besides, he fits in well with free safety Michael Griffin, who was suspended for a game last year after repeated violations of the league’s player safety policy.
The same suspension was levied against Tampa Bay safety Dashon Goldson. The Falcons’ William Moore was not suspended in 2013, though he was fined three separate times for hits during the regular season. Just a piece of the pie for $108,000 in fines levied against Atlanta last year.
The Packers had seven fines of at least $15,000 in 2013, including three against star linebacker Clay Matthews; a late hit against 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was both dangerous and started a scuffle between the two teams last September.
The Bears suspended tight end Martellus Bennett indefinitely this year after a practice fight with cornerback Kyle Fuller, but the team lifted the penalty several days later. Meanwhile, the Jets suspended cornerback Dimitri Patterson for leaving the team and not telling anyone, until he finally just showed up at a tryout for the Lions. All of which mirages the fact that Michael Vick’s transgressions have been forgiven and forgotten by most fans and teams.
The Steelers employ Ben Roethlisberger.
Antonio Smith was a defensive end for the Texans who was suspended in 2013 for removing Richie Incognito’s helmet and then swinging it at him. Not okay, even if it was Incognito. Houston moved on from Smith, but then the Raiders signed him to a two-year deal.
So that leaves us with one team: the San Diego Chargers. Since 2012, they’ve had just one player suspended, a defensive tackle named Garrett Brown, who violated the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy and was released by the team about two weeks later.
During the 2013 regular season, not a single Chargers player was suspended, and the only fine levied was a $7,857 penalty against guard Jeromey Clary for unnecessary roughness in Week 3. According to Spotrac.com, the Chiefs were the only other team to have under $50,000 in player fines or lost wages in 2013, though Kansas City did have three players – Dwayne Bowe, Donald Stephenson and Rokevious Watkins – all hit with suspensions this year.
San Diego also hasn’t been fined for nearly a year, an incredible accomplishment in today’s NFL. And over the past few years, they’ve parted ways with bad-news players like Shawne Merriman, Stephen Cooper and Vincent Jackson. In 2013, they were 23rd in penalty yards per game, according NFLPenalties.com, and had just four unnecessary roughness penalties. Only two teams had fewer (the Chiefs and Dolphins) and in contrast, the Buccaneers had 15 such penalties.
Coach Mike McCoy seems to run a tight ship, and on top of that, he led San Diego to a playoff win over the Bengals in his first season with the team. The Chargers lost to the Cardinals 18-17 in Week 1, but that was mostly because they don’t have a very good defense on the field.
But on the bright side, San Diego players don’t have to hire a defense off of it. Almost by default, they’re the cleanest team in the NFL. Someone should try telling that to the guys calling their games.