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Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Decoding Goodell's suspension policy

By James Walker
ESPN.com

The AFC North was in the police blotter this offseason. All four teams had players facing suspensions for violating the NFL's substance abuse and personal conduct policies.

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The problem is the league doesn't have clearly-defined guidelines for infractions. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is ruling on a case-by-case basis, which has sparked debate.

Here is a recap on Goodell's rulings in the AFC North:

Shaun Rogers, DL, Cleveland Browns

Violation: Rogers was caught with a gun at a Cleveland airport.

Penalty: Fined one game check (approximately $400,000)

Skinny: Rogers says he made an honest mistake, and the NFL obliged by not suspending him. But the stiff penalty of a game check makes a point that gun infractions are serious, even if it's accidental. Rogers is appealing the fine.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Infraction: Roethlisberger faced his second allegation of sexual assault in less than a year in Milledgeville, Ga.

Penalty: Conditional six-game suspension

Skinny: This was the harshest penalty by far in the division, and the biggest public criticism against the NFL is that Roethlisberger was never charged. But Goodell didn't act last year following Roethlisberger's first sexual assault allegation and was clearly peeved the second time around. Lately, Roethlisberger has been on his best behavior, and the suspension likely will be reduced to four games.

Cary Williams, CB, Baltimore Ravens

Infraction: Williams was suspended for an unknown family situation while with the Tennessee Titans last year.

Penalty: Two-game suspension

Skinny: It's hard to make sense of this without many details. But Williams is having a decent preseason and could've helped Baltimore's ailing secondary.

Maurice Purify, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Infraction: Purify was arrested in northern Kentucky for disorderly conduct.

Penalty: One-game suspension

Skinny: Although this infraction is relatively small compared to others listed, Purify has been in trouble with the law before. This suspension likely ends any chance of Purify making Cincinnati's 53-man roster.

Cedric Benson, RB, Bengals

Infraction: Benson was involved in a bar fight last May in Austin, Texas.

Penalty: None

Skinny: The NFL determined Benson was not the aggressor and didn't suspend him. The details seemed sketchy from the start, but Benson's past infractions put him at risk by the NFL.

Rey Maualuga, LB, Bengals

Infraction: Arrested for DUI after crashing into two cars and a parking meter in February.

Penalty: Fined two game checks and a portion of signing bonus

Skinny: This was Maualuga's first violation with the NFL. So the league decided to fine the linebacker but not cost him any games. Maualuga also went through an offseason rehab program and says he's learned from his mistakes.

As you can see, there isn't much consistency, as the penalties range all over the place.

It's difficult to outline every potential infraction. But it may be wise for the NFL to spell out the most prevalent cases (DUI, assault, weapons charges) and provide a definitive penalty range for each violation.

Until it's clearly explained in writing, the public will continue to question whether each judgment call by Goodell is too harsh or too lenient.