The NFL could face a decision before the 2018 season about whether to place Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy on paid leave, keeping him off the field amid an investigation by Atlanta-area police into an alleged home invasion in which McCoy’s former girlfriend suffered injuries and was robbed of jewelry.
The league is taking a wait-and-see approach, postponing consideration of placing McCoy on the commissioner’s exempt list until learning whether authorities tie him to any involvement in the case.
“There’s not much that [league leaders] can do until the police get further along,” one person familiar with the league’s inner workings said. “It’s very early in the process.”
Under the NFL’s personal conduct policy, a player can be placed on paid administrative leave by the league if he is formally charged with a violent crime. The policy defines that as having used physical force or a weapon to injure or threaten another person, having committed a sexual assault, having engaged in animal abuse or having “engaged in other conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety or well-being of another person.”
The policy also gives Commissioner Roger Goodell the leeway to use the exempt list if he believes after an investigation that a player may have violated the policy in any of those ways.
A player placed on the exempt list is paid his salary but cannot practice with his team or attend games. The player is permitted to be at his team’s training facility for meetings, workouts and medical treatment. The paid leave is designed to last until the league makes a decision about possible disciplinary action under the personal conduct policy. Suspensions under the policy are without pay.
The league’s use of the exempt list to keep players off the field while facing criminal charges became prominent during the 2014 season. Running back Adrian Peterson, then with the Minnesota Vikings, and defensive end Greg Hardy, then with the Carolina Panthers, spent most of that season on the list while facing charges in domestic violence cases.
The NFL Players Association filed a grievance in 2015, soon after team owners voted to ratify a revised personal conduct policy, challenging the league’s use of the exempt list for paid leave. But arbitrator Jonathan Marks ruled in the NFL’s favor in 2016, affirming the league’s right to use the list.
NFL attorney Jeff Pash wrote to teams at the time that the arbitrator’s ruling “recognizes and confirms the broad authority that the Commissioner has to define and impose discipline for conduct detrimental.”
Such “broad authority” could allow Goodell and the league to act in the McCoy case, pending the resolution of any criminal case and subsequent disciplinary action, should the league believe any is warranted.
It is not clear when the NFL might make a decision. The Bills are scheduled to report to training camp July 25, at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, N.Y. They open the regular season Sept. 9 at Baltimore. The paid leave policy is designed primarily to address a player’s status for the regular season but would not preclude Goodell from acting during training camp.
This case comes at a time when owners and other league leaders have spoken of getting fans’ focus back to the on-field product. Before the case arose, the NFL was poised to open a season without a significant legal controversy looming for the first time in several years. The league imposed a three-game suspension under the personal conduct policy on Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston without a courtroom challenge by Winston or the NFLPA. That marked a departure from the confrontations in federal court between the league and the players’ union in recent years over disciplinary cases involving New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
In McCoy’s case, it has yet to be established whether he had any involvement in the alleged attack early Tuesday morning at a home he owns in the Atlanta suburb of Milton, Ga. His former girlfriend, Delicia Cordon, had lived with him there, and her attorney alleges that a man broke into the home at 3 a.m. with no signs of forced entry, asked her for jewelry that McCoy had given to her and subsequently demanded back, and struck her face multiple times with a gun.
Police have said they are investigating a home invasion in which they believe the attack was targeted. McCoy said in a statement released Tuesday via social media that he had no involvement, which came in response to a photo posted on Instagram by a woman claiming to be Cordon’s friend, showing her face bloodied and bruised.
McCoy last month initiated eviction proceedings against Cordon, according to court records. He reportedly has been training in Miami this summer. The NFL has said it is investigating the allegations; the Bills have said they are gathering information. McCoy has hired Don Samuel, a prominent Atlanta defense attorney.
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