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Dallas Cowboys: The Question of Josh Brent’s Reinstatement

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(November 6, 2010 - Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)
(November 6, 2010 – Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

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.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

2 thoughts on “Dallas Cowboys: The Question of Josh Brent’s Reinstatement

  1. The Brent situation won’t have the same discipline as Stallworth.

    Brent’s punishment will be more severe if Goodell does reinstate him. There’s a difference between the two cases, one is clear as day what happened the other truly wasn’t Stallworth’s fault and in reality it was the fault of the pedestrian crossing the street where he shouldn’t have been in the early morning hours.

    Stallworth took the high road he could have plead not guilty and would have been found not guilty, yet he knew that choice he made that night resulted in someone’s death even if he wasn’t at fault. So, he took the punishment handed out by Goodell and has gotten his second chance in the NFL.

    For Brent he has a longer way to go and will he get a second chance? Most likely yes. Leonard Little did.

    To me the Rice case has no baring on what punishment got handed out, cause there was no clear cut evidence it was circumstantial and those have forgotten that the fiance also got charged as well in what happened.

    People make mistakes sometimes with unfortunate results, Brent is lucky that he’s got an organization behind him and that he’s getting the help he needs and hopefully will learn from that mistakes and even if he never plays football again at least can make a difference by speaking about the situation he’s been involved in and how it’s affected his life and to always know that he’s responsible for someone’s death.

    So, in essence yes Brent will get reinstated it’s just a matter of when.

    1. I agree the Stallworth and Brent situations are different but I’m curious to know how much more severe you think Brent’s punishment will be then Stallworth’s considering that Stallworth received a year – the longest suspension any player has received without being outright banned from the league?

      As for the Rice case we will have to agree to disagree – but I do concur that the Rice case will not have any bearing on the Brent case at least outwardly/publicly. Goodell wouldn’t be human if all the criticism he took after the Rice suspension didn’t affect him and at least subconsciously impact his decision on Brent….while he can’t do much with the Gordon case seeing how that is collectively bargained he is the judge and jury in matters of ‘personal conduct’ so he has full discretion with Brent.

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