Defensive tackle Josh Brent met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday to discuss Brent’s possible reinstatement to the league. Does he deserve another chance, much like Ray Rice?
Brent has not played a down of professional football since a December 2012 car crash that killed Brent’s Dallas Cowboys’ – and formerly University of Illinois – teammate Jerry Brown. Brent was at the wheel and was charged with and convicted of intoxication manslaughter.
With the possibility of significant jail time looming and the fact that this wasn’t the first time Brent had received a DUI citation he made the decision to retire prior to the start of the 2013 season to focus on his personal issues.
Brent ended up with a jail sentence totaling 180 days along with 10 years of probation – the last 45 days of which would be spent in a drug and alcohol treatment center.
Upon his release from the treatment center on July 29th, Brent immediately sent a letter to the league offices applying for reinstatement.
Throughout this process, Brent has had the support of both the Cowboys’ organization including owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett as well as the forgiveness and blessing of Brown’s mother.
Brent has been mentored and advised throughout the course of his recovery by former Cowboys’ Michael Irvin and Nate Newton, both of whom battled addiction problems and off the field issues of their own. And Jones has said that if the NFL sees fit to reinstate Brent then the Cowboys would clear room to re-add him to their roster.
There are several questions that must be answered before Brent’s goal of reinstatement can come to fruition: Should the Cowboys’ (or any team for that matter) welcome him back and how long of a suspension will Goodell dole out?
There is a precedent for vehicular manslaughter involving drunk driving set by Goodell himself several years ago.
In 2009, Goodell suspended wide receiver Donte Stallworth for the entire 2009-10 season after Stallworth struck and killed a pedestrian earlier that year after a night out spent drinking.
Though Stallworth would only receive a 30 day jail sentence the commissioner’s punishment was much more severe and Stallworth did not appeal it – a likely smart decision as the court of public opinion already felt that he was let off much too lightly by the legal system for causing the death of another.
So logic would dictate that Brent should expect the same type of suspension.
Yet, Goodell has come under fire in recent months for his inconsistencies on punishments lately as well as the length of time it has taken him to hand down such penalties. Goodell is likely to tread very carefully after all the criticism he incurred after the Ray Rice case in which Rice was suspended just two games for rendering his then-fiancée’ unconscious – criticism that was warranted.
While Brent’s case hasn’t generated nearly half the publicity that Rice’s did and the two offenses are quite different, Goodell needs to make sure that the suspension fits the crime so that he is not accused of being soft on serious off field issues – a charge that would have seemed ludicrous just three or four years ago during the early part of Goodell’s tenure as commissioner.
Under the circumstances, we can expect Brent to miss a full year just as Stallworth did. Brent’s case offers Goodell the opportunity to once again appear tough in his attempts to ‘clean up the league’, a mission held by Goodell since becoming commissioner in 2006, and a cause made much easier by the fact that Brent is more of a fringe player than Rice is/was meaning his loss should not make as big of dent into the Cowboys’ on field production as Rice’s absence will for the Baltimore Ravens.
On the off chance that Brent is reinstated for at least part of the year, the Cowboys have to decide whether he can even help an NFL team at this point after being out of the league for nearly two years.
Rest assured, he wasn’t religiously working out to keep up his playing shape while working through the legal process or during his time in jail. So not only will Brent not be game ready he will not even have a basic conditioning foundation from which to build.
It could take the Cowboys half a season just to work him back into playing shape and then another three to four games to shake off the game rust.
Still, when he did play the Cowboys’ got more than adequate value out of Brent whom they selected in the seventh round of the 2010 supplemental draft, a relative bargain.
Brent played in 39 games for the Cowboys, starting five of them, and while he is more of a solid backup then an every down starter, he is capable of making plays in the run game.
And where Brent excels – defending the run with the ability to two gap – is where the Cowboys were most deficient last season. The Cowboys had one of their worst defensive years ever in 2013 but especially struggled against the run, giving up 128.5 yards per game (27th in the league) and 17 rushing touchdowns – seventh most in the NFL.
The loss of Demarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher who signed with the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins respectively, and the season ending injury of middle linebacker and captain of the defense Sean Lee during a minicamp practice back in May, has left an already below average defense dangerously light on depth.
Needless to say, even if it takes Brent a few months to return to his old form his addition to the roster would not merely be about forgiveness and healing but about production as well and ultimately, at the end of the day, that’s what really counts in the nearly $10 billion behemoth that is the NFL.
And we need only look at the case of Michael Vick to know that an elite athlete can regain his form and return to the same level of play even after a long period of absence from the league.
Certainly Brent was not nearly the dynamic playmaker and force that Vick was but it is still an apples-to-apples comparison if Brent finds himself in the same type of nurturing environment as Vick did with Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The reinstatement of Josh Brent presents both Roger Goodell and the Dallas Cowboys with some interesting and important questions to answer. In the end the decisions of both will go a long way in further revealing and solidifying their philosophies and standing in the league and the court of public opinion.