As you may have heard by now from various sources, blue chip draft prospect Shane Ray was cited for possession of marijuana early today. By itself, this news wouldn’t have triggered me to make a post on this, but a tweet just fired off by Lindsay Jones got me thinking a bit:
If Shane Ray had been driving in Colorado, he only would have gotten a lane violation.
— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) April 28, 2015
Jones’s tweet could be construed as a little bit of good-natured poking on behalf of her home state, but it could also be construed a bit more seriously–and in a way that could be quite advantageous for a certain couple of NFL teams.
In one sense, the NFL’s policy on weed and other recreational drugs is draconian. That was put to the test in the sphere of public opinion when Josh Gordon was suspended ten games on these grounds, around the same time when Ray Rice was only suspended two games for him infamous act of domestic violence. But in another sense, the policy is a bit of a joke for most players. As you may know, if a player is not in the substance abuse program, he is subject to only one drug test per year, in a window between (har har) April 20 and August 9. Such a predictable window makes it easy for players to smoke weed for most of the year, including the entirety of the brutal playing season, where pain relief from cannabis may be sought by many. But if a player is in the program, the number of tests he is subject to is much more frequent and unpredictable, as Gordon found out from his latest suspension.
A positive test is not the only way a player can be placed in the program. He can also be placed if he exhibits “[b]ehavior, including but not limited to an arrest related to an alleged misuse of substances of abuse”. This is quite unfortunate news for Ray, as this could now make him subject to entrance in this program. But as Jones astutely puts it, if Ray had been traveling in a different state, this may have not been an issue.
So now imagine that this weekend you’re a low level rookie prospect who might not get drafted, and further imagine that you enjoy a toke “once in a blue moon“. If all else is equal when you get UDFA offers, does it make a phone call from John Elway or John Schneider more attractive, and provide the tiebreaker of who to sign with? I seriously doubt that either of the two GMs would ever use it as a selling point, but the players’ agents surely have to be savvy enough to recognize the risk of a client losing money due to a marijuana suspension, and it could be a subject that’s addressed in the representation process.
If the Broncos and Seahawks do hold a bargaining chip in this regard, it could also open up questions of competitive balance. Let’s say you’re a not-so-random team located in the same state that Ray was cited (and to boot, you have a not-so-random player you’re trying to sign to a lucrative deal that might also be in the substance abuse program). How good would you feel about one of your players getting suspended for infractions that started with a arrest for weed, a chain of events that never would have started on players employed by one of your division rivals? I doubt this would make many owners change their minds, but sometimes bad policies can have a habit of going away in unusual ways.
Although, I must admit, though I believe weed should be legal to possess in every state, I can probably live with California voting down their initiative on this subject. If it exists, it would be nice to hold another edge over the Raiders and Chargers.