Ray Rice case: Family exploring legal options; reinstatement by 2015?

There's a good chance we'll see Ray Rice back in the NFL in 2015. (Getty Images)
There's a chance we'll see Ray Rice back in the NFL in 2015. (Getty Images)

The family of Ray and Janay Rice have had discussions with lawyers about potential strategies and actions in the wake of his indefinite suspension by the NFL following the release of video tapes of him assaulting his wife, and there are no shortage of attorneys who believe the former Pro Bowl running back has a strong case against the league.

 

The NFLPA, which has until Tuesday to formally respond to the suspension, is also planning on fighting the suspension, sources said, not wanting to allow a precedent where a player is sanctioned multiple times by the NFL for the same incident.

 

Rice was originally suspended two games for his actions, then, after being released by the Ravens in the aftermath of the video appearing on the Internet, he was subsequently suspended indefinitely by Commissioner Roger Goodell.

 

In his letter to Rice explaining the second suspension, Goodell explains the need for additional discipline stemmed from Rice’s account given to the league being “starkly different” from what the video displayed, but lawyers I’ve talked to believe the concept of “new evidence” in this case is erroneous.

 

They have advised the family that they would aim to recoup his salary lost for 2014 beyond the original fine he was facing from the first suspension, and demand that he be re-instated shortly after the Super Bowl.

 

The source said a player like Donte’ Stallworth, involved in vehicular manslaughter cases the result of DUI, have been reinstated in a similar timeframe, and would be a precedent any potential Rice legal team would focus on.

 

Furthermore, the lawyers would argue that this video has been in existence since the night of the incident itself, that it was seen and documented by various law enforcement officials who described Rice punching his wife and knocking her unconscious in the police report, and that two of Rice’s direct bosses -- coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome -- have said that Rice gave them a thorough and graphic account of what he did to his wife.

 

Additionally, the Associated Press has reported that a copy of the full tape was sent to the NFL offices back in April, and, the NFL has admitted it did not seek the tape via the casino itself, which, according to New Jersey officials, would have been permissible and not an obstruction of justice in any way. So, the lawyers would argue, the exact version of events and the tape itself were available to be seen for months before Goodell made his first ruling in August, and Ravens ownership has already apologized for not being more vigilant in seeking the tape.

 

From the union standpoint, NFLPA officials believe the CBA itself limits the league from imposing two penalties for the same transgression. League officials I spoke to have a different take and disagree the document explicitly rejects “double jeopardy.” League officials admit they expect the NFLPA to fight that premise.

 

The NFLPA could also argue that the Ravens’ termination of Rice’s contract was a second punishment in and of itself, by a club, after the player had already been suspended once for it, and they would argue that violates Article 46 of the CBA, which under the “One Penalty” section specifically prohibits a team disciplining a player after the NFL had already done so for the same offense.

 

Given the sensitive nature of Rice’s actions, and the deep feelings and emotions stirred nationally by this domestic violence case, caution would be taken by the union to make it clear that Rice’s actions cannot be condoned in any way, but the idea of this precedent is significant and the NFLPA and its lawyers are prepared to fight it staunchly, I’m told, formulating a multi-pronged approach.

 

While it remains to be seen if or when teams would be interested in signing Rice, based on numerous conversations with people who will be directly involved in this process on all sides, I would fully expect Rice to end up reinstated prior to the start of the 2015 league year in March. And, with NFL teams offering second chances to players like Michael Vick, Stallworth, Leonard Little and others, even some within the NFL office would be shocked if Rice is not employed within the league again.

CBS Sports Insider

Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday... Full Bio

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