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Dennard case will be unpredictable

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  February 23, 2013 12:40 PM

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Talking to several league, team and player sources this week at the scouting combine, one thing is for certain -- no one is sure what will happen to Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard when it comes to sentencing and league discipline.

Here's what I do know:

  • Dennard did not plead out before trial because nothing less than a felony was being offered. He had zero to lose by going to trial;
  • Dennard is expected to get jail time but will likely be out before training camp;
  • Despite the wording of the NFL's personal conduct policy, Dennard could initially incur a suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, though the NFLPA would fight back;

This really amazes me because it's clearly black and white in the 2012+Personal+Conduct+Policy.pdf:

Covered Persons – This policy applies to all players under contract; all coaches; all game officials; all full-time employees of the NFL, NFL clubs, and all NFL-related entities; all rookie players once they are selected in the NFL college draft; and all undrafted rookie players, unsigned veterans who were under contract in the prior League Year...

And a league office source agreed with my interpretation that Dennard couldn't be suspended because he had not yet been drafted at the time of the incident.

But there is a gray area in the personal conduct policy about whether the incident itself is the time marker, or is it adjudication?

There is a reference to, “the standard of conduct for person employed in the NFL is considerably higher.” Well, the conduct happened before Dennard was in the NFL. His conduct has been fine in the league.

“Upon learning of conduct that may give rise to discipline…” Again, the conduct itself was prior to Dennard’s entry into the league. The only "conduct" since Dennard has been in the league was him getting convicted of a felony in a court room.

And that's something that could give Goodell an avenue -- wrongly in the NFLPA's mind -- to discipline Dennard.

There are those that feel Goodell could view an NFL player being convicted of a felony as conduct detrimental in itself. At the NFLPA agents’ meeting on Friday, two agents said NFLPA counsel told them that the conduct window could be upwards of a year prior to entering the league. There is some precedence for that in the drug policy, but it has not been done in the personal conduct policy.

UPDATE: The person who spoke at the NFLPA meeting was wrong, and the NFLPA is clarifying her remarks. The one-year window only applies to substance abuse behavior. The personal conduct policy clock starts when the player is drafted.

Former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was suspended five games for something that happened before he entered the NFL, but that was much different. Pryor was trying to manipulate the draft system and flee NCAA suspension that he had agreed to.

Jets defensive lineman Kenrick Ellis was not suspended after pleading out to a misdemeanor and serving 45 days in jail for a college assault charge.

Goodell could make a felony conviction as an NFL player -- even if the incident happened before NFL entry -- grounds for suspension. If he's up for another fight with the NFLPA.

But Goodell should also weigh that Dennard has been penalized, severely, already for his actions. He's now a convicted felon, and the incident caused him to lose upwards of $1 million in the draft. League discipline often serves as punishment because there wasn't enough in the court system. Dennard has and will certainly pay.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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