With Browns linebacker Mychal Kendricks admitting to insider trading and planning to plead guilty to it, many assume that the NFL will find a way to keep Kendricks off the field until he’s sentenced. And the Commissioner Exempt List provides cover for putting a player on paid leave, keeping him off the field, keeping him paid, and neutralizing a potential P.R. problem.
But there’s a practical problem in this specific case. The Commissioner Exempt List applies to crimes of violence, not financial crimes. For insider trading, the league has no instantly-available procedure for yanking a player away from the fray while still paying him, until the criminal process and/or the league’s internal procedures have resolved.
Sure, the league can try to strong-arm Kendricks into voluntarily taking paid leave, perhaps with the not-so-subtle suggestion that he can either be paid to not play or not be paid to not play. But would the Browns, owned by a truck-stop mogul whose company defrauded customers and paid millions to resolve the situation, get sanctimonious when it comes to a low-level insider trading caper with no real victim?
The league also could expedite the investigative and disciplinary process under the Personal Conduct Policy, but it would be impossible to get it all done (and to have all appeals resolved) before the Browns begin their regular season.
All in all, it’s a very, very strange spot for the league, the Browns, and Kendricks. As the player awaits eventual sentencing, there’s nothing that keeps him from playing other than the league’s oft-cockeyed concerns with public relations. Maybe Kendricks isn’t a big enough player and the Browns aren’t a big enough team to cause the NFL to fracture a rule or two in order to find a way to keep Kendricks from playing.