Commentary

Commissioner sends strong message

Originally Published: August 13, 2009
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Donte' Stallworth shouldn't have been surprised that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for the 2009 season on Thursday. Everyone with knowledge of how Goodell administers punishment had predicted Stallworth would get one year since the indefinite suspension was levied June 18.

The commissioner had no choice but to make a statement with Stallworth's punishment. Like most companies, the NFL wants to make sure its employees don't get behind the wheel of a car after they have been drinking. Because the NFL believes players are role models and are held to a higher standard of behavior, Goodell had to be firm in making an example of a player who was involved in an alcohol-related accident that took a life.

The NFL has been criticized for years for an eight-game suspension given to St. Louis Rams defensive end Leonard Little in 1999 after he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in an alcohol-related accident. Many considered eight games too short of a penalty. A life was lost, so critics wondered how a player could be allowed to return in the same season.

Goodell made sure the message was clear involving this incident. The commissioner didn't care that the Florida court system gave Stallworth less than a month in jail. Along with warning players, Goodell wants to make sure front-office employees and coaches know they have to be accountable for their decisions when it comes to drinking and driving.

You can anticipate what will happen next for Stallworth. The Browns signed Mike Furrey, David Patten and used two second-round picks in the draft to replace him. For new coach Eric Mangini, Stallworth was a Brown only by contract. Once he's reinstated in February, Stallworth will be released and the team will try to reclaim the 2009 portion of his signing bonus.

The big shock for Stallworth could come in 2010, when he might find a limited market for his services. He's only 28, an age in which he should be in his prime, but the former first-round pick of the Saints has never truly lived up to his potential. Blessed with great speed, Stallworth missed too many games and practices for the Saints because of nagging leg injuries. Once the Saints gave up on him, he was a popular target for teams in need of receiving help. He was traded to the Eagles, but they let him go after one season. The Patriots tried him, and he had nine starts and 46 catches in 2007. The Browns felt he would be the perfect weapon on the side opposite Braylon Edwards last year, but he caught only 17 passes for 170 yards.

With the package of talent he has, it's hard to believe Stallworth has never had a 1,000-yard season in the NFL. Now, he's going to have to scramble to get back into the league after the Browns release him.

For Goodell, the one-year suspension was just. The sad part is a family lost a father because of a bad decision by someone who should have known better. Goodell had to be strong with his action and he was.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer