Peterson just 1 of the NFL players left in limbo by ruling
BOSTON (AP) — There is a defensive end heading for NFL free agency who had 15 sacks in his last full season. He’s the kind of player a team can build a pass rush around, if he were spending more time on the gridiron and less in the courts fighting domestic abuse charges.
Greg Hardy’s team, the Carolina Panthers, isn’t expected to keep him.
And then there’s the recent league MVP, a running back who once topped 2,000 yards, whose team says it wants him back, but he’s not so sure. If the Minnesota Vikings wouldn’t support him after he was charged with beating his son, Adrian Peterson can probably find a team that will.
As NFL teams turn to free agency on March 10, there is more to consider this year than 40-yard dash times and vertical jumps. A few players who might otherwise attract a bidding war now have to convince teams they are talented enough to justify the baggage they bring along.
And that’s making what was already an imperfect science even more difficult.
“It all makes it rough on the football people,” said Bill Polian, a 2015 Pro Football Hall of Famer who built the Buffalo Bills, Panthers and Indianapolis Colts into Super Bowl teams. ”(Hardy) would be a marquee free agent if not for these other issues.”
Peterson is still under contract with the Vikings. But he has said he is uneasy about returning to the team that distanced itself from him after he was charged with a felony for disciplining his child to the point of injury. He missed 15 games — seven with pay while on the exempt list and the last six while suspended under the enhanced personal conduct policy Commissioner Roger Goodell announced after his initial two-game punishment for Ray Rice angered almost everyone.
But U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled last week that Goodell could not suspend Peterson under a policy that was created after the original crime. (Peterson pleaded no contest to a reduced assault misdemeanor). The case goes back to an NFL-appointed arbitrator, who is likely to tell Goodell to review the case under the old policy that in most cases maxed out at a two-game suspension.
In the meantime, the NFL has appealed, and it is likely to ask for a stay of Doty’s ruling until then, said Daniel Wallach, a sports litigator in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“That will go a long way toward clarifying Adrian Peterson’s status,” he said. “If Peterson loses the stay issue, NFL free agency advances without him. And what does that do to his market value? It’s going to diminish it tremendously.”
Peterson isn’t the only one.
Hardy was placed on the exempt list and missed all but one game after he was convicted last summer on two counts of domestic violence. He appealed and had both charges dismissed last month when his accuser couldn’t be located to testify; the prosecutor said there was evidence of a financial settlement.
The NFL said Hardy was never officially disciplined and his case was still “under review.” He will become an unrestricted free agent next week, but potential suitors will have to consider a potential suspension — in addition to the public relations damage that would come from signing a man who, according to court testimony, threw his girlfriend on a futon covered with rifles, ripped a necklace off her neck, and threatened to kill her.
“We start with the premise that you have no idea what his availability will be,” Polian said. “You would want protection for all those scenarios ... all of that makes the negotiation very difficult.”
Even in the draft this year, Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston is a potential No. 1 overall pick, but has off-field issues — including rape accusations — that could make University of Oregon’s Marcus Mariota more appealing.
Or, it could make Winston undraftable.
“The owner will say, ‘Our sponsors and season-ticket holders and our market won’t like it,’” Polian said. “And so there will be owners who are not interested, no matter what the football people think.”
And then there is Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice — Patient Zero in Goodell’s domestic abuse crackdown — whose production diminished even before he was caught punching his wife in a casino hotel elevator. He will be joined on the free agent market by San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald, who was cut by the 49ers in December for what the team called “a pattern of poor decision making.”
“Clearly he has PR issues, and some owners are going to say ‘We can live with it,’ and others will say ‘No, we can’t,’” Polian said.
“There’s a saying among general managers when they get ready for free agency: ‘It only takes one.’ Only one team has to have that interest in a player.”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this story.