You would have to hold the title of world's greatest football prognosticator to have predicted this one. The NFL suspended the greatest quarterback of this generation, Tom Brady for the first four games of the 2015 season. The first of those four games, an opening night showdown with the Steelers at Gillette Stadium, the night New England plans to raise the banner of the Lombardi trophy it won in controversy and in the process letting the air out of the Colts’ season and the footballs. Two of the league’s top players, and one on this list, will miss that opening night contest, setting up a matchup headlined by 2014 second round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo who projects as the starting quarterback for New England in Brady’s absence.
Interestingly enough, the future Hall of Famer entered the league as a backup quarterback and when the starter at the time Drew Bledsoe was forced to miss time due to injury, Brady grabbed hold of the job and refused to relinquish it. Garoppolo gets his opportunity in different circumstances and in place of a four-time Super Bowl Champion, and while few expect him to steal the job, can he at the minimum demonstrate that he’s capable of taking over once Brady calls it a career?
What is more concerning for the NFL and its fans is the type of debate this news stirs. Should the league come down harder on infractions off the field or rather those that question the integrity of the game on the field? Clear evidence proved former Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulted his wife, and yet the NFL decided to suspend him for just two games. Meanwhile along with the Brady suspension, the Patriots were also fined $1 million and stripped of two draft picks, including a first round pick in 2016 for the “DeflateGate” incident. The league considered the “Spygate” fiasco and viewed New England as a repeat offender. When an off-field incident occurs, you consistently hear phrases along the lines of “there are more important things in life than football,” so why should an incident which may have harmed the integrity of the game be considered more detrimental than that in which pain was inflicted on another human being in an act of violence? The league needs to find consistency in the suspensions it hands out.
The mistake was made and the NFL soon changed its policy on domestic violence, as evidenced by Greg Hardy's 10-game suspension, in addition to the games he sat out last year following the incident. Adrian Peterson was also placed on the commissioner's exempt list last year, although he was reinstated a few weeks ago.
Nevertheless, here are the 10 best players who received a suspension in the last decade.
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10 Albert Haynesworth – 5 games
Albert Haynesworth became one of the league’s most dominant defensive linemen as a member of the Tennessee Titans; he was voted an All-Pro in 2007 and 2008. However, he often let his emotions get the best of him on the gridiron. In a game against the Dallas Cowboys in October of 2006, Haynesworth stomped on the face of center Andre Gurode after his helmet had been removed, and the player began bleeding profusely. Haynesworth was suspended five games for his foolishness. After signing a megadeal valued at $100 million with the Washington Redskins, Haynesworth was suspended once again, this time four games for detrimental conduct.
9 Greg Hardy – 10 games
Greg Hardy blossomed into one of the better pass rushers in the NFL while in Carolina. However, an incident during that time obliterated his reputation. Hardy was suspended 10 games after committing a “significant act of violence” against his ex-girlfriend, as stated by the NFL. Hardy played just one game last year. Following the negative fallout from the soft Ray Rice suspension, the NFL revamped its policy on domestic violence and the Panthers placed him on the exempt list, meaning Hardy would be forced to sit out, but still collected his $13.1 million in remaining salary. The case was dismissed after the victim failed to show up to court during the appeals process, following Hardy having been convicted.
The Dallas Cowboys seemingly do not care about what their players do off the field as long as they can perform on Sunday. The team decided to sign Hardy, and subsequently draft two players with numerous off the field concerns in Randy Gregory and La’el Collins. Hardy’s suspension will begin on September 5, the final day of roster cuts heading into the 2015 season.
8 Plaxico Burress – 4 games
The former Super Bowl champion was involved in the most mind-boggling event of any player on this list. As a member of the New York Giants in 2008, Burress suffered an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound to his right thigh while at a New York City nightclub. Burress, who caught the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII, was suspended by the Giants for four games a day after he was charged with illegal weapons possession.
7 Aldon Smith – 9 games
As a rookie in 2011, Aldon Smith recorded 13 sacks and was quickly recognized as one of the league’s most ferocious pass rushers. Smith was off to a rapid start in his career, but off the field transgressions halted his immediate progression. Smith was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence and marijuana possession. He was suspended four games for that incident and five more games for possessing an illegal assault weapon.
6 Josh Gordon – 10 Games (Possibly One Year)
After being suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season, Josh Gordon caught up to speed in a huge way, eventually leading the NFL in receiving yards that season. Despite his immense talent, Gordon continues to make the wrong decisions off the field, and they’ve limited his involvement on it. He was suspended again, this time for the entire 2014 season but had that cut down to ten games. He was suspended both times for failing drug tests. He currently faces another league long suspension for testing positive for alcohol use; members of the NFL’s substance abuse program are prohibited from consuming alcohol.
5 Ndamukong Suh – 2 games
Ndamukong Suh was involved in a similar incident to fellow defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. The perennial Pro-Bowler stomped on then Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith in a 2011 matchup between divisional opponents. Now a member of the Miami Dolphins, Suh is one of the rare players in the league known for his on-the-field problems. He continues to be recognized as one of the dirtiest players in the league, and the Dolphins hope he left his antics in the motor city.
4 Adrian Peterson – Indefinitely (later reinstated)
Adrian Peterson has carried the Minnesota Vikings franchise since he entered the league as a first-round pick in 2007. He is one of just seven players in league history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season. Thus, when his name made news across North America, many were surprised that it involved an issue away from the field. Peterson was suspended indefinitely in November for what the league referred to as “an incident of abusive discipline toward his 4-year old son.” The running back was reinstated in February and is eligible to play in 2015, although his relationship with his team is now murky.
3 Ben Roethlisberger – 4 games
The two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback was involved in a controversial incident shortly after the 2009 season. A 20-year old college student accused Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her at a Georgia nightclub. Prosecutors dropped the charge but Roethlisberger was still suspended for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The league initially suspended Roethlisberger for six games, but his sentence was reduced to four games before the start of the 2010 season.
2 Michael Vick – Two seasons
During the prime of his career, Michael Vick was the most electrifying player in football, and he single-handedly filled seats that were once empty at the Georgia Dome. But just before the 2007 season, when all signs pointed to him having his best season of his career, Vick admitted to participating in a dogfighting ring and was suspended indefinitely. He pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and served 21 months in prison. Upon his release, he was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles and a year later, was once again an NFL starting quarterback.
1 Tom Brady – 4 games
Just the idea of the league’s poster boy being suspended for any amount of games sent shockwaves across the NFL world. And when his four-game suspension became official, few could fathom such a punishment, especially since we hadn’t seen one quite like it in the history of the league. Brady and the Patriots were penalized for the “DeflateGate” scandal in which it was reported that some footballs were purposefully under-inflated to gain a competitive advantage. The team was labeled as a repeat offender (“Spygate”) and therefore received a harsher penalty.
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