We talked yesterday about the long stretch of time between Jerome Felton's drunken driving arrest in June 2012 and the NFL's decision to suspend him three games for that incident, which was finally released on Monday. That delay might have helped Felton establish himself with the Vikings -- as we discussed yesterday, the Vikings might have been more susceptible to letting Felton go if NFL discipline had come before he had a chance to establish himself last season. But the process also provided another window into a piece of the NFL's disciplinary policy that has irked players over the past few years.
According to a source close to Felton, the NFL notified the fullback of its decision to suspend him in June. However, drunken driving charges against Felton were dropped on April 24, after Felton pled guilty to careless driving. Felton completed community service to fulfill the requirements of the sentence in late June, according to Hennepin County court records, and appealed his suspension in July. The NFL notified Felton on Monday he would be suspended for the first three games of the season, near the same time it announced the discipline to the public.
Felton was first arrested on suspicion of a third-degree DWI, but the charge became a second-degree DWI because Felton had a previous DWI conviction within the last 10 years. That's an important part of this case, because it put Felton under the purview of the NFL's rules for repeat offenders -- even though the second DWI charge against him was dropped.
A NFL spokesperson declined to discuss the case, saying the league will not provide details on the case beyond its initial statement.
Here is what the NFL's 2013 Substances of Abuse Policy says about alcohol-related offenses:
"Absent aggravating circumstances, discipline for a first offense will generally be a fine of two-seventeenths (2/17) of the amount in Paragraph 5 of the NFL Player Contract to a maximum of $50,000. If the Commissioner finds that there were aggravating circumstances, including but not limited to felonious conduct or serious injury or death of third parties, and/or the player has had prior drug or alcohol-related misconduct, increased discipline up to and including suspensions may be imposed. Discipline for a second or subsequent offense is likely to be a suspension, the duration of which may escalate for repeated offenses."
Essentially, it seems the NFL treated Felton's case as an alcohol-related offense, even as its discipline came after those charges had been dropped. The league's personal conduct policy clearly gives commissioner Roger Goodell the right to issue fines or suspensions whether or not criminal charges were filed, so there's not much recourse for Felton here. But his suspension is an example of Goodell's far-reaching power, and in this case, the running back will miss three games because of an incident that might have earned Felton stiffer punishment from the league than it did from the law.