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Eisenberg: Final Ruling Is Best-Case Scenario For Ravens

Posted Jul 24, 2014

Roger Goodell gave a favorable enough sentence to Ray Rice that he could be setting himself up for criticism.

The Ravens aren’t going to complain about running back Ray Rice receiving a two-game suspension from the NFL as punishment for his involvement in a domestic-violence incident that generated headlines throughout the offseason.

It’s a best-case scenario for the Ravens.

While waiting … and waiting … for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to weigh in on the issue, I heard and read predictions that Rice might have to sit out as many as six games or as few as two. I even saw one guess that he would miss half of the 2014 season.

My prediction all along was three or four games. In the end, Goodell settled on two games without pay plus an additional fine for a third game paycheck.

It’s a favorable enough sentence that the league could be setting itself up for criticism over sensitivity to and domestic violence. Two games is what troubled Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon received for his first violation of the league’s substance abuse policy last year. Now Rice is getting the same suspension as a first-time offender of the league’s personal conduct policy. Some fans are going to take offense that a drug case and a domestic violence case were treated similarly.

But the reality is there’s no handbook setting clear-cut parameters for what deserves what in the realm of league jurisprudence, or what is “appropriate.” It’s all a matter of perception and opinion. Everyone has a world view, and those views can and do clash.

Bottom line, Rice is being punished for showing a lack of judgment so profound that even his teammates, his close supporters, acknowledge it warranted punishment.

“You knew something was going to happen, rightfully so,” Ravens receiver Torrey Smith said Thursday.

It turns out Rice will have to sit out one-eighth of the regular season. That’s around 20 games in baseball, which sounds worse.

But while two games might be less than what the Ravens feared, it’s not a punishment without repercussions. They open the season with crucial home games against their top division rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers. Rice will be missed. He is penciled in to carry the Ravens’ running game, a key component of new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system. Now someone else, or a group, will have to make that running game go.

Will Bernard Pierce be ready to carry a load after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason? Is veteran Justin Forsett able to contribute more than he showed in 2013, when he had just six carries? Can rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro contribute immediately? These are all questions that will circulate in the coming weeks.

Still, filling in for Rice for two games is a lot different than filling in for four. The latter would represent the entire first quarter of the regular season, enough time to suffer fatal setbacks. It’s harder to wreck your season in the first two weeks.

I’m guessing it helped Rice’s cause that his track record was spotless, highly positive, before this incident; that he was known almost as much for his strong community work as for his ability to carry the football. It seems he impressed Goodell when he and his wife, Janay, traveled to New York for their meeting in June. In his letter to Rice announcing the suspension, Goodell wrote that he believes Rice is “sincere” in his “desire to learn from this matter and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career.”

Those who don’t think it’s enough punishment are entitled to their opinion. The issue of domestic violence stirs strong opposition, as it should.

But once the media spotlight moves on and someone else’s problems becomes a focal point and the debate over whether two games is sufficient dies out, Rice will still be dealing with the fact that his reputation has suffered badly in the court of public opinion – so badly that it’s quite possible things will never be the same for him. And that’s a more severe punishment than anything any commissioner could mete out.

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