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NFL suspension for Dennard? Probably not

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  February 20, 2013 06:18 PM

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The big question in regards to how Alfonzo Dennard's felony conviction today will affect the Patriots going forward comes down to if he receives any jail time, and whether the judge will allow that time to be served around the football season.

It's possible Dennard only gets probation and the Patriots aren't affected at all.

Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly told reporters people in similar circumstances get probation or limited jail time.

"I think the judge will be doing the same here as they do with anyone else," he said, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

Yes, striking a police officer is serious business and it makes predicting a sentence difficult, but Dennard has three factors in his favor: he's a first-time offender, he's kept his nose clean since, and he's already been severely penalized in that he is now a convicted felon, and the incident cost him at least $1 million in potential NFL earnings when he dropped to the seventh round of the draft.

Of course, I don't think the Patriots can bank on just probation so they need to start making plans that Dennard won't be in the fold (tagging Aqib Talib, signing Charles Woodson to play free safety and moving Devin McCourty back to the corner would be one set of possibilities).

As far as Dennard being suspended by the NFL under the personal conduct policy, that is unlikely considering that the incident happened before Dennard was an NFL player, so he was not covered by the collective bargaining agreement.

People will quickly point to the Terrelle Pryor case, when he was suspended five games for NCAA infractions after he was taken in the supplemental draft.

But that case was far different. Pryor was trying to manipulate the system and flee NCAA suspension that he had agreed to. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell only allowed Pryor passage into the supplemental draft after Pryor agreed to the five-game suspension.

"I believe it is a fair conclusion that he intentionally took steps to ensure that he would be declared ineligible for further college play and would be able to enter the NFL via the supplemental draft," Goodell said in a news release. "Taken as a whole, I found that this conduct was tantamount to a deliberate manipulation of our eligibility rules in a way that distorts the underlying principles and calls into question the integrity of those rules."

Dennard was not facing any NCAA suspension because his eligibility had expired at the time of the incident.

A closer case to Dennard's was that of Jets defensive lineman Kenrick Ellis, who pleaded guilty to a college assault and battery charge, served 45 days in prison and probation. The NFL reviewed his case, like it is Dennard, but did not suspend him.

The lack of suspension was not because it was only a misdemeanor (Dennard was convicted of a felony) and he pleaded out, it was because Ellis was not an NFL player at the time. The severity of Dennard's situation should not factor into any decision by Goodell. It's a CBA issue, not one of crimes and misdemeanors.

If Goodell decides to discipline Dennard, I can guarantee you the NFLPA will fight this battle for him and Dennard wouldn't see a suspension for years. The NFLPA wanted to fight Pryor's battle but he and his team realized they were in a difficult spot with the NCAA sanctions and the fact that Pryor didn't decide to leave college until after the draft.

The court situation is unpredictable for Dennard, but NFL sanctions are not -- he can't be punished under a CBA that he wasn't under the umbrella of yet. Or else the NFL will have to wage yet another lengthy court fight with the NFLPA, one the NFL will probably lose.

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

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