On Friday, the NFL announced that Baltimore Ravens tight end Darren Waller will be suspended for at least one year because he violated the league’s substance abuse policy. Waller’s mistake is just the latest example of a disturbing trend for the club.
Whether by design or coincidence, the Ravens purged most of the strong personalities from their roster in 2013 after their championship season. A year and a half later, the infamous Ray Rice domestic violence video surfaced, causing a media feeding frenzy. In the aftermath of Rice’s release from the team, owner Steve Bisciotti directed his subordinates to improve the Ravens image.
Since then, the front office and coaching staff have emphasized veteran leaders, high character prospects and ‘red star’ players in both the draft and free agency. Unfortunately, their efforts have left much to be desired. In recent years, the team has had more than their fair share of problems keeping players out of trouble and available...
Ray Rice won an appeal to overturn his indefinite suspension, but remains blackballed by the NFL. Offensive lineman Jah Reid was arrested for battery and Lorenzo Taliaferro for public intoxication, but both escaped conviction and suspension by entering diversion programs. Stalwart defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was unexpectedly suspended for four games in December after violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy.
Left tackle Eugene Monroe was never suspended, but played in only six games due to nagging injuries. Those who questioned Monroe’s passion for the game were proven correct when he skipped offseason workouts the following summer to promote medicinal marijuana. Monroe was subsequently released, leaving the Ravens with a hefty dead money hit against the salary cap, and retired. Nose tackle Terrance Cody was charged with animal cruelty and running back Bernard Pierce for drunk driving, each was immediately released by the Ravens. Safety Matt Elam was suspended for one game. Rookie tight end Nick Boyle was suspended for the final four games of the regular season for violating the policy on performance enhancing substances.
The Ravens released top safety Will Hill in the offseason after news broke that he would be suspended for ten games due to violating the substance abuse policy. Nick Boyle was suspended again, also for ten games as a result of using performance enhancing drugs. Darren Waller was suspended for four games after violating the substance absue policy. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was stopped for driving on a suspended license, fortunately the charges were dropped.
In March, the NFL announced promising second year running back Kenneth Dixon will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season as punishment for a positive performance enhancing drug test. And most recently, Darren Waller received one year suspension for using recreational substances.
Suspensions, especially cannabis related, are not unique to the Ravens. Many players across the league have claimed recreational drug use is a better form of pain management than prescription drugs. But until the NFL catches up to the progressive states, players will continue to pay the price for breaking the rules.
For the Ravens, these off the field issues have had real consequences. Most players suspended or released have been role players, but the large salary cap hits that resulted from cutting Rice and Monroe have legitimacy harmed the front office’s roster construction ability. And the absence of Dixon will make the first quarter of the upcoming season more challenging.
The Ravens always do their due diligence on the players they acquire and occasionally decide the risk of bringing in players with questionable character is worth the reward. They also have a deep support staff for their players, led by O.J. Brigance, Harry Swayne and Jameel McClain. Yet their players, including several repeat offenders, continue to struggle keeping their noses clean.
If it is so difficult to predict which players do indeed possess the character and maturity to avoid off the field problems, then maybe the Ravens should recalibrate their player acquisition strategy.