The four-game suspension imposed on Washington tackle Trent Williams has been resolved. The twists and turns as to how Williams got to that point haven’t been.
As explained by the Washington Post, Williams and the NFL Players Association currently are at odds over the manner in which Williams progressed through the various steps that led to his latest suspension. Specifically, Williams and his agents contend that the escalation of penalties did not follow the specific steps articulated in the substance abuse policy, which was revised as of 2014 to relax the penalties to some extent.
Even more specifically, Williams and his agents believe that an NFLPA lawyer agreed to a four-game fine when the appropriate penalty should have been a two-game fine. Apart from doubling the financial penalty, the outcome put Williams one infraction away from a suspension.
In other words, Williams claims he didn’t know that the next violation would result in a four-game suspension. Instead, he thought that it would have been a four-game fine.
Per the Post, the player, his agent, the NFLPA, and the team declined to comment on the story.
Although it’s entirely possible that someone with the NFLPA erred in processing the case, the procedures under the substance-abuse policy aren’t nearly as linear as the article in the Post suggests. For example, a first violation while in Stage Two of the program triggers a four-game suspension if the player successfully completed Stage One, but a four-game suspension if he didn’t successfully complete Stage One.
With the suspension resolved via neutral arbitration, it will be difficult if not impossible for Williams to delay the suspension through a lawsuit against the league. A case against the NFLPA for breach of the duty of fair representation is possible, but those are very difficult cases to prove. Even if such a claim has merit, it won’t allow him to avoid the suspension.
Lost in these allegations is the fact that Williams has continued to violate the policy, nearly four years after he claimed that those issues were behind him.
“I don’t want to be known for the guy who failed multiple drug tests,” Williams said in December 2012. “That is me, in a sense. It did happen. I embrace that wholeheartedly. That happened, but I have an opportunity to change it, and that’s what I want to do.”
It happened a lot. As PFT reported five years ago, there were 10 positive tests in October and November of 2011.
It’s currently happening again. Even if Williams’ contentions are accurate (and they possibly are), he’s claiming that his latest violation should have resulted in him playing four games for free. So he knew that there were significant financial penalties at issue, and yet he violated the policy again.
None of this changes our very strong belief that the NFL shouldn’t care about players smoking marijuana. Until the rules change, however, the players need to know how to properly navigate them — and they need to be prepared to face the consequences when they don’t.