The first big suspension handed out in professional football occurred way back in 1925. Art Folz was the quarterback for the Chicago Cardinals when he orchestrated a hilarious plan to stack an opposing team with high school players in order to get an easy win and challenge for the 1925 Championship. He was given a lifetime ban that was later overturned. Folz decided to retire nonetheless.
Suspensions were a rare thing compared to today. In 1947, Frank Filchock and Merle Hapes were given lifetime bans from their role in trying to fix the 1946 NFL Championship Game. Alex Karras and Paul Hornung were also given one-year suspensions for gambling on sports.
It wasn’t until the early 80s that we began to see a noticeable increase in suspensions. Player conduct was being closely monitored and the NFL was coming down harder on offending players. Then, in 1988, the NFL began its battle with a growing steroid epidemic. No less than 15 players were suspended for testing positive for steroids prior to the 1988 season. Many more were suspended through 1989 and 1990. The list of banned substances grew and so did the number of suspensions.
Suspensions aren’t just limited to players. Owners, coaches, and even referees have been suspended for various reasons. The longest suspension given to an owner was a one-year banishment that Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. received for his involvement in a corruption and gambling licensing case.
Here is a list of recently banned NFLers and what they're doing now.
20 Ray Rice
Ray Rice’s vicious assault on his fiancée is well documented. The NFL’s handling of his discipline was widely criticized and this incident brought a spotlight on domestic violence in sports.
Since being suspended in September 2014, Rice has been shunned by the NFL. He served his suspension and is free to sign with any team but nobody seems willing to give him a chance. It’s true his production was down in his last year with Baltimore but it seems more likely that signing Ray Rice would be a public relations nightmare.
19 Josh Brent
The Dallas Cowboys picked nose tackle Josh Brent in the 2010 supplemental draft and had high hopes for the young man out of Illinois. On December 8th, 2012, Brent was involved in a car accident that claimed the life of his passenger and teammate Jerry Brown. He was charged with intoxication manslaughter and on January 24th, 2014 he was found guilty and sentenced a six-month prison stint. The league slapped him with a 10 game suspension.
18 Richie Incognito
Noted hot-head Richie Incognito was a third-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2005. He played five seasons before being waived by the Rams due to his on-field meltdowns and confrontations with coaches. He would finish the 2009 season with the Bills before signing with Miami in the off-season.
He made headlines in 2013 after he was involved in a series of bullying incidents that likely contributed to teammate Jonathan Martin’s departure from the team. It appears that Incognito, the recipient of the 2012 “Good Guy Award” might not have been such a good guy after all.
He was suspended and went on to miss the entire 2014 season.
17 Jonathan Vilma
The “Bounty-Gate” scandal saw its share of fallout and Jonathan Vilma took his share of lumps over it. A first-round pick of the New York Jets in 2004, Vilma played his first four seasons with the Jets prior to being traded to the Saints after the 2007 season. He played very well in New Orleans but then the bounty scandal was uncovered.
The NFL originally suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season but the penalty was overturned and Vilma went on to play in 11 games. Knee surgery limited him to just one game in the 2013 season and he was cut after the season ended. Jonathan Vilma retired shortly after.
16 Chris Cook
Cornerback Chris Cook entered the league in 2010 with the Minnesota Vikings. He was suspended in 2011 when Cook was charged with domestic assault. He was banned for the balance of the 2011 season. After the 2013 season, Cook played sparingly during the 2014 season in San Francisco but was cut prior the start of the following season.
15 Plaxico Burress
Plaxico Burress had his share of highlights during his 11 year NFL career, including a touchdown catch that won Super Bowl XLII for the New York Giants. In November 2008. he made headlines for all the wrong reasons. He was enjoying a night on the town in Manhattan when his unlicensed loaded gun slipped out of his waistband and down his leg consequentially firing a bullet into his own thigh. This incident resulted in charges and a prison sentence. He was suspended from the NFL pending release from prison and he was also jettisoned by the Giants.
14 Donte Stallworth
The speedy wide receiver saw action on six different teams during his 10-year NFL career. In March 2009, Stallworth, buzzed on alcohol and high on pot, struck and killed a man. As in other similar cases with rich athletes, Stallworth got off lightly. He was sentenced to a mere 30 days in jail of which he served 24. He was also suspended for the entire 2009 season.
Baltimore took a chance on him for the 2010 season but injuries limited him to eight games. He would proceed to sign a couple other one-year deals before he was waived by the Redskins prior to the 2013 season.
13 Michael Vick
Just prior to the 2007 season, it was discovered that Mike Vick had been involved in a cruel and inhumane dog fighting ring which he had allegedly financed. Vick was charged, pleaded guilty and served 19 months in prison. He was banned by the NFL throughout the course of his sentence.
Needless to say, not many teams were interested in signing the controversial quarterback after he was released from prison but he was finally signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 to back up Donovan McNabb. When given the opportunity to take over the reins following McNabb’s departure, Vick had troubles with consistency and he eventually lost the job to Nick Foles. Vick went on to play a brief stint with the New York Jets and finally wound up backing up Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.
12 Adam “Pacman” Jones
After the Titans drafted him 6th overall in the 2005 draft, Jones showed that he had talent. He also showed that he was out of control. Several of his teammates tried to set him straight but it was no use. In 2007, Pacman was involved in an altercation at a strip club in Las Vegas. He had apparently showered the dancers with wads of one-dollar bills. This is common enough, but, it is uncommon to take the money back claiming it was just for “visual effect.” A scuffle ensued and shots were fired. Pacman would be forced to pay restitution and the NFL banned him for the entire 2007 season.
11 Martavis Bryant
The young wide receiver was drafted by Pittsburgh in 2014 and it hasn’t taken him very long to get himself banned. After playing sparingly in his rookie season, Bryant failed a drug test prior to the start of the 2015 season and he was dealt a four-game suspension. During this suspension, he attended rehab. Upon his return he played quite well.
10 Frank Alexander
Big defensive end Frank Alexander just doesn’t seem to learn. He was drafted in 2012 and mainly filled the role of a backup defensive end for the Carolina Panthers. He also has the distinction of already failing three drug tests which have recently seen him receive a one year suspension from the NFL. In May of 2014, Alexander was banned for four games for failing a drug test. Just as his first suspension was ending, he failed a second test and was given another 10 game banishment.
9 LaRon Landry
After playing eight seasons in the NFL, LaRon Landry may have reached the end of the road. While the veteran safety is only 31-years-old, he has seen his reputation and career take a dramatic slide.
His career got off to a promising start after he was selected as Washington’s first pick in the 2007 draft. He played for five seasons in Washington but his last two were shortened by injuries. He signed a four-year deal with the Colts in 2013. Things fell apart for LaRon in 2014. He failed a drug test and was suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season. He quickly failed a second test and he was given another 10 game ban. The Colts cut him loose and he was not picked up for the 2015 season.
8 Aldon Smith
When free agent Aldon Smith has his current one-year suspension lifted in November 2016, he'll be back in Oakland. He was a highly touted first-round pick by the 49ers in the 2011 draft. He impressed on the field but his off-field troubles took center stage. In 2013, Smith was arrested for impaired driving and possession of marijuana. He then immediately checked into rehab after which he had a strong finish to the 2013 campaign.
2014 wasn’t a good year. He was suspended for nine games for violating the substance abuse policies. He was then arrested on is 3rd DUI charge. The Niners were done with his antics and he was released.
7 Dion Jordan
Yet another name on the long list of young players that might have wrecked their careers before it ever really started. Dion Jordan was picked in the first round of the 2013 Draft by the Dolphins. The 6’6” defensive end had an unremarkable rookie year and ran into trouble in 2014 when he failed two drug tests. He was suspended for a total of six games but he came back to finish the season.
6 Josh Gordon
Josh Gordon was selected in the supplemental draft by the Cleveland Browns in 2012. His first two seasons were pretty much all sunshine and lollipops. In 2013, he became the first ever wide receiver to have back-to-back games with 200 yards receiving. Then the trouble started. On July 5th, 2014, Josh was arrested for impaired driving and subsequently suspended for 10 games. He followed this up by violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and was hand a stiff one-year suspension.
5 Daryl Washington
The Arizona Cardinals selected Daryl Washington in the second round of the 2010 Draft. Over his four years with the Cards, he was named to the 2012 All-Pro Team and to the 2013 Pro Bowl. He established himself as a top tier linebacker. He signed a rich six-year extension with Arizona and seemed primed to be on his way to big things. Not so fast. Washington failed a drug test in 2013 and was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season. Shortly after the failed test, he was arrested for aggravated assault. He then failed his second drug test in May 2014, which resulted in him being suspended for the 2014 season.
4 Fred Davis
His rookie season was marred by a lack of discipline and poor effort, but Fred Davis seemed to turn it around for the next season and continued to hold his own into the 2011 season. It was then that he served a four-game suspension for a failed drug test.
The Redskins held onto him through the 2013 season before they let him go to free agency. Davis then failed another drug test and was suspended from the NFL for a year. During that year off, instead of rehabbing and straightening out, Davis was getting arrested for a DUI and then again for assault.
3 Justin Blackmon
Some people learn from their mistakes and make the most of second chances. Then there’s Justin Blackmon. He was chosen by the Jaguars as the 6th overall pick in the 2012 draft and drew comparisons to Anquan Boldin and Terrell Owens.
He was arrested for DUI shortly after the draft but all was forgotten when he had an excellent rookie season. Hopes were high and apparently so was Justin. In April 2013, he failed a drug test. After missing the first four games due to the suspension, he returned and played a few very productive games before failing another drug test. He was suspended indefinitely. During that suspension he was busted for possession of marijuana. He voluntarily entered a 90-day rehab program.
2 Tanard Jackson
Tanard Jackson got his career off to a pretty solid start in his 2007 rookie season. In fact, he was pretty solid through his first three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Just prior to the start of the 2010 season, he was suspended indefinitely for failing his second drug test. After he was reinstated in October 2011, he went on to have a very good season. He was then cut by the Bucs in April 2012 for failing his physical.
1 Aaron Hernandez
The NFL really needs to get its act together with respect to the way it hands out suspensions. While many guys are serving long suspensions for marijuana use, Aaron Hernandez was given a three-game suspension and a $10,000 fine as a result of his murder conviction.
Don’t worry, it’s not like this suspension means anything. Hernandez will be in jail for the rest of his life and wouldn’t be able to play anyway. But, the question of why a three game suspension was given out remains.
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