Peterson just 1 of the players left in limbo by ruling

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Posted: Mar 02, 2015 7:43 PM
Peterson just 1 of the players left in limbo by ruling

BOSTON (AP) — There is a defensive end heading for free agency who had 15 sacks in his last full season. The kind of player a team can build a pass rush around, if he were spending more time on the football field and less in the courts fighting domestic abuse charges.

Greg Hardy's current team, the Carolina Panthers, isn't expected to make him an offer.

And then there's the recent NFL MVP, a running back who once topped 2,000 yards, whose team says it wants him back, but he's not so sure. If the Minnesota Vikings wouldn't support him after he was charged with beating his son, Adrian Peterson can probably find a team that will.

As NFL teams turn to free agency on March 10, there is more to consider this year than 40-yard dash times and vertical jumps. A few players who might otherwise attract a bidding war now have to convince teams they are talented enough to justify the baggage they bring along.

And that's making what was already an imperfect science even more difficult.

"It all makes it rough on the football people," said Bill Polian, a 2015 Pro Football Hall of Famer who built the Bills, Panthers and Colts into Super Bowl teams. "(Hardy) would be a marquee free agent if not for these other issues."

Peterson is still under contract with the Vikings. But he has said he is uneasy about returning to the team that distanced itself from him after he was charged with a felony for disciplining his child to the point of injury. He missed 15 games — seven with pay while on the exempt list and the last six while suspended under the enhanced personal conduct policy Commissioner Roger Goodell announced after his initial two-game punishment for Ray Rice angered almost everyone.

But U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled last week that Goodell could not suspend Peterson under a policy that was created after the original crime. (Peterson pleaded no contest to a reduced assault misdemeanor). The case goes back to NFL-appointed arbitrator Harold Henderson, who is likely to tell Goodell to review the case under the old policy that in most cases maxed out at a two-game suspension.

"Like Tinker to Evers to Chance, this is going to go from Doty to Henderson to Goodell," said Daniel Wallach, a sports litigator in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

In the meantime, the NFL has appealed and it is likely to ask for a stay of Doty's ruling until then, said Wallach, of the firm of Becker and Poliakoff.

"That will go a long way toward clarifying Adrian Peterson's status," he said. "If Peterson loses the stay issue, NFL free agency advances without him. And what does that do to his market value? It's going to diminish it tremendously."

Peterson isn't the only one.

Hardy was placed on the exempt list and missed all but one game after he was convicted last summer on two counts of domestic violence. He appealed and had both charges dismissed last month when his accuser couldn't be located to testify; the prosecutor said there was evidence of a financial settlement.

The NFL said Hardy was never officially disciplined and his case is still "under review." He will become an unrestricted free agent next week, but potential suitors will have to consider a potential suspension — in addition to the public relations damage that would come from signing a man who, according to court testimony, threw his girlfriend on a futon covered with rifles, ripped a necklace off her neck and threatened to kill her.

"We start with the premise that you have no idea what his availability will be. You can make some guesses but don't know for sure," Polian said. "You would want protection for all those scenarios ... all of that makes the negotiation very difficult."

Polian said teams consider conduct every year, both in the draft and free agency and even when re-signing their own players. This year, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is a potential No. 1 overall pick, but has off-field issues — including rape accusations — that could make Oregon's Marcus Mariota more appealing.

Or, it could make him undraftable.

"The owner will say, 'Our sponsors and season ticket holders and our market won't like it,'" Polian said. "And so there will be owners who are not interested, no matter what the football people think."

And then there is Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice — Patient Zero in Goodell's domestic abuse crackdown — whose production diminished even before he was caught punching his wife in a casino hotel elevator. He will be joined on the free agent market by San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald, who was cut by the 49ers in December for what the team called "a pattern of poor decision making."

McDonald has a limited market because he fits better in a 3-4 defensive alignment that fewer teams use. But he was never charged, Polian said, and he "apparently has no issues with the league."

"I say apparently, because we aren't sure," Polian added. "Clearly he has PR issues, and some owners are going to say 'I think we can live with it,' and others will say 'No, we can't,'" Polian said.

"There's a saying among general managers when they get ready for free agency: 'It only takes one.' Only one team has to have that interest in a player."

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AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this story.

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Jimmy Golen covers sports and the law for The Associated Press.