Before the 2014 NFL season, the commissioner’s exempt list was a seldom-used tool in the league for players facing unusual circumstances. It was a list where the NFL could find a temporary spot for a player while not counting him against a team’s active 53-man roster.
Michael Vick finished his suspension while on the list in 2009 before joining the Eagles in the regular season. Jonathan Vilma was on it in 2012 after finishing his Bountygate sentence. Jeff Demps, the former Bucs running back, was on the list the following year while he was pursuing his track dreams.
But in the past four years, a disturbing pattern has developed—and that pattern continued this week when newly claimed Washington linebacker Reuben Foster was added to the list. Though it has always been within its rules, the list has become a stowaway for guys who have abused those close to them, and it comes with no penalty to the teams who wish to keep the players.
Adrian Peterson appeared on the list in 2014 when the then-Vikings running back was indicted on child abuse charges. That was followed shortly after by then-Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted of assaulting a woman that summer and then appealed (the appeal triggered a jury trial, for which the accuser did not appear in court and the charges were eventually expunged). Two years later, Giants kicker Josh Brown was placed on the list when more documents emerged about his alleged domestic violence. And on Tuesday, shortly after Washington claimed Foster off waivers following domestic violence charges, the NFL placed him on the exempt list.
As my colleague Robert Klemko noted, Washington claiming Foster shows the organization values winning over people. I’m a believer in second chances, and I’m also a believer in due process. But this list provides a safe haven for both the player and team that should be cut out.
While on the list, a player is considered to be on paid leave and does not count against the 53-man roster; the team is without his services until Roger Goodell removes him from the list, and the player misses only practices and games during that time. The fix here is an easy one: make the commissioner’s exempt list one truly used only for unusual circumstances. If a player is charged with a crime, don’t give the club an out. If the team wishes to keep a player on the roster (or in Washington’s case, take one on), let that player count against the 53-man roster. You want him? He’s yours.
But this solution will never pass in the next round of CBA negotiating. The players still get paid so the union won’t argue for it. The teams get an out, so the owners won’t argue for it. And the list will continue to be the Land for Badly Behaving Boys.
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