Changes are soon coming to the National Football League pertaining to the way that the league suspends players. Drug policies will likely be altered to reflect the wishes of the NFL Players Association. Players involved in assault and/or domestic violence matters could face harsher punishments.
Several NFL superstars will miss time in 2014 due to suspensions. Three of those athletes must wait until 2015 before they can apply for reinstatement. One of the shorter bans highlighted in this piece could, in the future, ultimately lead to certain players being suspended for life.
These are the 10 biggest NFL pre-season suspensions of 2014.
10 TE Fred Davis -- Free Agent: Suspended Indefinitely
It is easy for forget that Davis is not in the NFL due to suspension. He hasn't played all that much in recent years.
Davis, drafted by the Washington Redskins in 2008, hasn't participated in a full season since 2010. He made 17 regular season appearances in the past two years, and he found the end zone only once during that stretch of time.
The once talented tight end who has a history of failed drug tests has been suspended indefinitely for repeated violations of the NFL substance abuse policy. His story went from bad to worse in July when he was allegedly involved in a domestic violence incident. Those assault charges were dropped in August, but Davis remains out of the league for the foreseeable future.
9 S Will Hill -- Baltimore Ravens: 6 Games
Hill entered the NFL when he was signed by the New York Giants in 2012. He has since failed to grasp the league's substance abuse policy. Hill was suspended twice in under a calendar year (2012-13 seasons) for violating the NFL's drug policy. After remaining clean up through the end of the '13 campaign, Hill was suspended by the league in May 2014 after he tested positive for marijuana.
The Giants waived Hill in June.
The former New York defensive back could revive his career in Baltimore. Aaron Ross, a teammate of Hill's when the two were with the Giants, tore his Achilles while practicing with the Ravens in July. Hill may end up taking Ross' roster spot when all is said and done.
8 K Matt Prater -- Denver Broncos: 4 Games
Denver's Pro Bowl kicker has been in the NFL's alcohol program since 2011, when he was charged with a DUI. Prater was reportedly facing a year-long ban this summer following an alcohol-related violation. His camp was able to work out an agreement with the NFL, however, and Prater was ultimately suspended for only a quarter of the season.
What makes Prater's situation interesting is that he is one of three players in this list who faced a year-long/indefinite ban for violating league policy. Only Prater was able to escape that harsh of a punishment. He will be eligible to return for Week 5 when the Broncos face off with the Arizona Cardinals.
7 WR Dwayne Bowe -- Kansas City Chiefs: 1 Game
Bowe waited nearly a year to learn about his suspension. The Kansas City wide receiver was arrested last November for possession of marijuana. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges in April, but it was always expected that the league would eventually hit Bowe with some sort of ban.
Bowe's suspension gives the Chiefs the right to void the player's contract. Rather than simply cut a talented receiver who was set to have a cap hit of over $11 million, Kansas City could instead offer Bowe to another team before the October trade deadline.
The Cleveland Browns could certainly use Bowe now that their most talented offensive weapon is suspended for all of 2014.
6 LB Robert Mathis -- Indianapolis Colts: 4 Games
Mathis has consistently been one of the best defensive players in the NFL over the past six years. He was named to every Pro Bowl squad from 2008 through 2013. Mathis was a first-team All-Pro and AFC Defensive Player of the Year for 2013.
His reputation could have taken a hit when Mathis was suspended in May for violating the NFL performance-enhancing substances policy. Mathis did not keep quiet on the matter, instead releasing a statement that contained the following message:
“Like many families, my wife and I faced fertility challenges, and I sought medical assistance. I specifically asked the doctor if the medication he prescribed for me would present a problem for NFL drug testing, and unfortunately, he incorrectly told me that it would not. I made the mistake of not calling the NFL or NFLPA to double-check before I took the medication at the end of last season.”
Mathis is eligible to return on September 29.
5 RB Ray Rice -- Baltimore Ravens: 2 Games
Ray Rice will, regardless of what he achieves as a player, forever be remembered because of this suspension.
The Baltimore running back allegedly knocked his then-fiancee (current wife) unconscious while the two were spending a weekend together in Atlantic City this past February. Hotel cameras picked up footage of what appeared to be Rice dragging the victim out of an elevator.
Rice has never denied the allegations against him. He escaped criminal charges upon being accepted into a pretrial program. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, taking into account that Rice was a “first-time offender,” suspended the player for two games.
The backlash to Rice getting a two-game ban for knocking a woman out cold was immediate, and it generated headlines that those running the NFL never again want to behold.
Goodell has since admitted that he mishandled the Rice situation. Future NFL players facing domestic and violent assault charges a first time would be suspended for six games. Repeated violators could be banned for life.
The updated policy is unofficially being referred to as the “Ray Rice Rule.”
4 WR Wes Welker -- Denver Broncos: 4 Games
Wes Welker has been arguably the best possession receiver of his era. It hasn't hurt that the 33-year-old has spent the majority of his NFL career playing with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Welker has 841 career catches, and he has found the end zone 48 times in regular season play since 2005.
The 33-year-old was questionable for the start of the upcoming regular season when he suffered his third concussion in ten months during an August preseason game. It was announced on September 2 that the NFL had suspended the veteran for four games after Welker tested positive for amphetamines. According to reports, Welker took Molly, a form of Ecstasy, while at the 2014 Kentucky Derby.
Welker has denied any wrongdoing.
3 LB Daryl Washington -- Arizona Cardinals: Suspended Indefinitely
Washington's status as an active NFL player is in question.
Arizona awarded the Pro Bowl linebacker with an extension that could keep him with the Cardinals up through the 2017 regular season. That deal could have been worth a total of $32 million. $5 million of the contract was guaranteed money.
Washington got himself suspended for at least a season this past May for repeated violations of the league's substance abuse policy. Expect that ban to be extended. He pleaded guilty to assaulting the mother of his child earlier this spring, and it is widely believed that Washington will face further punishment per the league's domestic violence policy changes that stemmed from the Ray Rice suspension.
2 LB Aldon Smith -- San Francisco 49ers: 9 Games
Smith looked to be the game's next great pass-rusher in his first two seasons in the NFL. After accumulating 14 sacks in his rookie season, Smith finished 2012 with 19.5 sacks. He also had 66 combined tackles and three forced fumbles in his second pro campaign.
Smith's inability to conquer his personal demons have put his status as a dominant defensive force in jeopardy. He has twice been arrested for driving under the influence since January 2012. Smith was facing “three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon” last October. Those chargers were ultimately reduced.
Smith missed five contests in 2013 after he voluntarily entered a substance abuse treatment center. The Niners will be hoping that the 24-year-old remains on his best behavior over the next nine weeks.
1 WR Josh Gordon -- Cleveland Browns: Suspended Indefinitely
One could write a book on the Josh Gordon saga.
After being bounced from Baylor University due to multiple incidents involving marijuana, the Browns acquired Gordon in the 2012 Supplementary Draft. Gordon has himself a solid rookie campaign, but he couldn't stay out of trouble. He was banned for the first two games of the 2013 for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Gordon responded by being arguably the best wide receiver in the final 14 contests of the '13 season. He led the NFL in receiving yards (1,646). Gordon had 86 catches and nine touchdowns.
The 23-year-old was popped this past February when one of his two drug samples exceeded the NFL threshold for marijuana in a player's system. Gordon was then involved in two traffic stops later on in the year. One ended with his passenger being cited for possession of marijuana, and the other involved Gordon being charged with driving under the influence.
It was announced on August 27 that Gordon is suspended indefinitely. That suspension could be reviewed by the league in February.