Two years ago, after the Patriots released receiver Antonio Brown, the league refused to inform teams as to whether he’d be placed on paid leave, if signed by another club. That resulted in no one signing Brown, because no one knew with any degree of certainty whether they’d be paying him to not play. Thus, as a practical matter, he served a 14-game unpaid suspension in 2019.
With free-agent cornerback Richard Sherman, who was released without bail on Thursday, facing four misdemeanor charges arising from Wednesday’s domestic incident, a similar guessing-game could now unfold as to his availability. It shouldn’t. With camps opening soon, the league should make a quick and efficient determination as to whether he’ll be cleared to play, and it should let all teams know his status.
The fact that he faces no felony charges and no one suffered injury in the incident suggests that paid leave would not be appropriate in this case. However, the policy has sufficient breadth and discretion to permit the Commissioner to invoke paid leave. Indeed, paid leave can apply not only when physical force is used to injure a person but simply to threaten. The video of Sherman slamming his body into the door of his in-laws’ home could be categorized that way by the league office. The policy also allows paid leave for any “conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety or well-being of another person.”
So paid leave becomes an option, and the policy would allow it. The point for now is that the league should decide sooner rather than later whether Sherman would be placed on paid leave if signed by a team, and the league should let it be known. Absent clarity as to whether he’d be paid to not play, teams will likely refrain from signing him — especially in a season with a net salary cap shortfall of $25 million per team.
There’s another reason for a decision to be made quickly by the league. Sherman quite possibly would benefit greatly at this point from the structure and routine that comes from being on an NFL team, along with the resources available to players who need assistance of any kind. Although Sherman may decide that he should take some time before joining a team, the vague possibility of paid leave should not be an impediment to a potential decision to join a team.