The Washington Redskins claimed former 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster off waivers, the team announced Tuesday, just two days after Foster was released by San Francisco following a weekend arrest on a domestic violence charge.
Later Tuesday, Foster was placed on the NFL’s commissioner’s exempt list pending a league investigation into the charge, meaning it is unlikely Foster will play for the Redskins this year. Players on the list are not allowed to attend practices or play in games.
By claiming Foster, a move that prompted outrage from some users on social media given the nature of his arrest, the Redskins are reserving the right to add him to their roster if he is cleared by the league and the criminal justice system.
Team decision-makers were said to be divided over whether to claim Foster. Redskins President Bruce Allen masterminded the decision to claim him, an NFL official with knowledge of the Redskins' deliberations said, adding that the front office was far from unanimous about the idea.
The Redskins did not comment beyond releasing a statement from Senior Vice President of Player Personnel Doug Williams that said Washington will conduct its own investigation of Foster, taking time to study the allegations. “The Redskins fully understand the severity of the recent allegations made against Reuben,” Williams said in the statement. “If true, you can be sure these allegations are nothing our organization would ever condone.”
The 2017 first-round pick was arrested at the team hotel in Tampa on Saturday night, and the 49ers released him the next day. Tampa police said a 28-year-old female victim, later reported to be his girlfriend, said Foster “slapped her phone out of her hand, pushed her in the chest area and slapped her with an open hand on the left side of her face.”
It was the third time this year that Foster, 24, had been charged with a crime. He was arrested in January in Alabama for marijuana possession; the charges were later dropped because he was considered a first-time offender. In April, he was charged with felonies for domestic violence, making criminal threats and assault weapon possession after his girlfriend said he struck her in February. She later recanted the allegation, and the domestic violence charge was dropped. In June, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor possession of an assault weapon and was given two years of probation, a 50-day work sentence and a $235 fine.
The NFL suspended him for the first two games this season for violating the league’s conduct and substance abuse policies. He also was sent home from the NFL scouting combine in 2017 after an argument with a worker at an Indianapolis hospital.
A person with knowledge of the NFL’s waiver system said the Redskins were the only team to make a claim on Foster.
“Let me be clear, Reuben will have to go through numerous steps including the full legal process, an investigation and potential discipline from the NFL, as well as meetings with counselors associated with the team before he will ever have the opportunity to wear the burgundy and gold as a player,” Williams said in the statement.
The team did not say how long its investigation would take.
The Redskins have several players who were teammates of Foster’s at the University of Alabama, which played into the team’s decision to claim him. Williams’s statement said the team had “candid conversations with a number of his ex-Alabama teammates and current Redskins players who were overwhelmingly supportive of us taking this chance.”
Williams’s statement also read: “Nothing is promised to Reuben, but we are hopeful being around so many of his former teammates and friends will eventually provide him with the best possible environment to succeed both personally and professionally.”
Foster was considered one of the top linebackers in the 2017 draft, and he starred for the 49ers last season, posting 72 tackles in 10 games. He was not as effective this season, contributing 29 tackles in seven games.
From a football perspective, claiming Foster is a low-risk move for the Redskins, who could wind up with a young, talented linebacker at a position currently filled with older players. But it is a much bigger risk from a public relations standpoint, especially on a team in which the wives of owner Daniel Snyder, President Bruce Allen and Coach Jay Gruden have publicly expressed support for charities that help women who are victims of domestic violence.
Criticism of the team’s decision to claim Foster was significant. Several prominent journalists attacked the move on social media, including ESPN’s Mina Kimes, who tweeted a statement from Snyder in 2014 that said the team “strongly endorses [Commissioner Roger Goodell’s] efforts to eradicate domestic violence” after Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on videotape hitting his then-fiancee.
Staff writer Mark Maske contributed to this report.