AnalysisOff-The-Field Issues

2014 Minnesota Vikings: Guessing at Suspensions—Adrian Peterson Settles to Plea Agreement with Montgomery County

Adrian Peterson has settled to a plea agreement with Montgomery County and has pled “no contest” to one charge of misdemeanor assault, which (as expected) does not contain any reference to family violence or a minor. As a result, the case has been deferred in adjudication for two years, but effectively is resolved—and Peterson’s legal punishment will consist of the maximum fine ($4000), probation and 80 hours of community service.

This had all been reported before the plea was submitted. The biggest question may be about the nature of Fox’s reporting and the wording they chose when they said “acceptable to the NFL” because one can easily read into that and see the NFL providing a lighter punishment than they ordinarily would, especially in light of the time he’s already missed—though that may be specious as he’s been paid for those weeks and likely had full access to the rights and privileges of an NFL player, like access to player development programs and various benefits negotiated by NFLPA.

Further, the NFLPA may be more bothered with fining back game checks instead of future game checks—a process I don’t remember happening in the past. Fining players for work already done (as opposed to the maximum on-field penalty fine of 25%) may be a poor precedent to set and the NFLPA may rather fight that fight in the long run and take a bullet in the short run in representing Peterson.

The CBA tightly controls fine policy and I don’t see a way this gets around that.

Obviously “work already done” is not quite an accurate way to characterize Peterson’s paid absence from the team, but the exempt/commissioner’s position list is unique in the NFL and relatively tough to untangle from a precedent standpoint. Regardless, Peterson drew game checks, which can be construed in whatever world as “earning them”.

I don’t see much changing for Peterson re: short-term on-the-field prospects, but it’s hard to imagine he changes course like this without some indication from the NFL—who Fox said the leak was from before the plea was agreed to—that Peterson would play a substantial amount of time this year.

One interesting note is the concept of a “credited season” for the purposes of the NFL. One must have “full pay status for a total of three or more regular season games,” per the CBA and those on exempt lists, regardless of actual, take-home pay, do not get those games counted towards them. Credited seasons are important because it allows a player to command a higher minimum salary as veterans (a minimum which is determined by year)—something that may be relevant when his career eventually does wind down.

It may also impact his ability to claim credit for this contract year (moving him closer to free agency) if there is a challenge by the Vikings (which I doubt they’d win).

Though I’ve speculated in the past that the actual charge won’t matter to the NFL—Jerome Simpson was never charged with a DUI and never tested positive for alcohol before his three-game suspensions, Ben Roethlisberger never went to trial and Brandon Marshall was suspended (albeit for one game after appeal) for a dropped domestic violence charge—ESPN is indicating that changing the charge to a misdemeanor from a felony may reduce his suspension:

The NFL Players Association expects that the league will punish Peterson as it would any other player determined to be guilty of a misdemeanor, league sources told ESPN’s Ed Werder.

This would be a reversal from the NFL’s previous stance, which was re-established at an owner’s meeting earlier this year:

One area of consensus that was reaffirmed in last week’s league meetings is that violation of workplace rules and personal conduct should not require a conviction, the sources said.

Any facts established in a legal proceeding can be found as a personal conduct violation regardless of the legal outcome. This has been a practice Goodell has exercised in prior cases involving Ben RoethlisbergerBrandon Marshall and Adam “Pacman” Jones.

That is, a misdemeanor conviction should not be treated differently than a felony conviction, as the NFLPA is suggesting. Merely the facts of the case, which have already been established well in the public eye, should play a role. Complicating things, of course, is that there is no trial of record and that the case file is sealed, and has disappeared from the website.

Also relevant may be the fact that in this case, a judgment call is not necessarily as clear. He will likely meet with the commissioner, but as the severity of the act may matter more than the fact of it (corporal punishment isn’t a universal moral wrong, that is), and that many players in the NFL have said they support Peterson (or have implied they hold similar discipline standards for their children). Though there have evidently been reports that some in the locker room may be disgusted with Peterson, it seems like the public face of players in the NFL is supportive.

Greg Aeillo, NFL spokesman, said “We would review the matter, including the court record, and the commissioner would make a determination. We cannot provide a timetable.” In a statement, the Vikings also indicated they have no further comment: “The Vikings are aware of today’s plea agreement involving Adrian Peterson. We will have further comment at the appropriate time”

It will be difficult to review without a court record, but the NFL needs to make a decision before the game against Chicago after the Vikings’ bye week. My guess is that Adrian will at least finish out the year with the team and have at least four games—or the move to a plea deal makes less sense (though a mounting and less winnable case may be reason as well). I also doubt the NFL will see the exempt list as an in-situ punishment, so he should be subject to some level of punishment, though maybe not the 2-6 games that people using the domestic violence policy as a guide may see.

A four-game suspension makes the most sense to me, based off of my wild speculation. See you in Detroit, Adrian.

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    1. I’ve already responded to the majority of those arguments. Cedric assumes the incident falls under the domestic violence policy, but the NFL has already walked back from that ( Further, accrued seasons (six games) do not matter for players at Adrian’s level, only credited seasons (three games) do. Accrued seasons determine things like RFA, ERFA, and practice squad eligibility while credited seasons determine retirement benefits, vet minimum, etc.

  1. I think a lot of this will depend on how Adrian presents himself to Goodell and the team. One of the things that had bothered me the most about all of this was that he never realized what he did was wrong. He was always very matter of fact about what he did. Now that he has been through the legal process it will be interesting to see if all of this has changed his perception on whether he went to far or not. I said at the beginning of all this that the best case scenario for Adrain moving forward would be for him to turn him into a key advocate to lead the fight against child abuse. I think both he and the league have an opportunity to do that now. I agree with Arif that any type of fine of previously earned salary would be fought by the union. I would propose that instead of the league having Adrian pay some huge fine to them, the league and Adrian work together and have AD make a huge donation to a child abuse charity, one that the league would match. Then have him pledge $1000 per TD or 100 yd game to the same charity for the rest of the season or his career. Those are ways they can try to turn something positive out of all this and get him back on the field without having any messy disputes with the NFL PA or any of the groups that are just waiting to rake the league over the coals as soon as they let any of these guys back onto the field. I just don’t know that suspending him more games does anyone any good. I would rather see them work towards getting something positive out of what has been a really messed up year with the domestic situations.

        1. Great article, my sentiments exactly with this situation. I sincerely hope there is someone in the Vikings or leagues PR department that realizes that not only is this the best route to go in the court of public opinion, but also the best thing to do to actually try and make a positive difference.

  2. It’s unknowable at this point, because it’s entirely at Goodell’s discretion.

    Which is something the league should view as a problem but probably doesn’t.

    Anyway, I just don’t think there is any way that Peterson’s team hasn’t had discussions with the league that have given some guidance about what the punishment will be.