From March 11 through late July, the NFL locked out its player-employees. From time to time during the lockout, the league vowed to hold locked-out players responsible for off-duty misconduct during a lengthy stretch in which they were continuously off-duty, because the NFL wouldn’t allow them to be on-duty.
As Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports reported several weeks ago, the NFL eventually agreed not to take action against players who found themselves in hot water while getting the cold shoulder from the league. But the NFLPA, as Silver reported, curiously agreed that eight men regarded as repeat offenders could be disciplined.
When Commissioner Roger Goodell opted not to suspend Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib or Titans receiver Kenny Britt, some questioned the accuracy of Silver’s report. In the wake of the news that Bengals running back Cedric Benson will be suspended three games, subject to appeal, for allegedly assaulting his former roommate and agreeing to a diversion program that will wipe the slate clean if he stays out of trouble for a year, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports has obtained the names of the eight players whom the NFLPA agreed could be suspended.
We’ve since obtained a copy of the August 4, 2011 letter agreement, from NFL general counsel Jeff Pash to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. The letter bears the signature of both men.
The eight players identified in the letter are: Talib, Britt, Benson, Albert Haynesworth, Clark Haggans, Johnny Jolly, Pacman Jones, and Brandon Underwood.
For the other players, the NFLPA agreed that arrests occurring during the lockout may be used in the future, for determining whether a player is a repeat offender, and thus subject to enhanced penalties under the personal conduct policy. Also, the NFLPA agreed that the players who got into trouble during the lockout could be placed into the substance abuse program based on the specific nature of the alleged violations. Under the August 4 letter, the relevant period extends from March 11 through August 3.
Benson will appeal his three-game suspension on Tuesday. The centerpiece of his argument should be that the league had no power to discipline him for actions occurring while he was locked out, and that the NFLPA had no ability to exempt him from the league’s general position that players won’t be punished for arrests occurring during the lockout. If that fails, Benson should seriously consider filing legal action against the NFLPA for breach of the duty of fair representation — especially since the reconstituted union has compromised Benson’s rights based on events occurring at a time when the union wasn’t a union.