Michael Salfino and 4for4.com’s Josh Moore posed interesting questions about Bell’s impending suspension.
With his strong start of the 2014 season, Le’Veon Bell made those who picked him in fantasy drafts look incredibly insightful. And since LeGarrette Blount’s departure, Bell has torched the NFL, gaining 711 total yards and five touchdowns on an insane 96 touches in three weeks.
It goes without saying (but I will anyway), Bell will be a prime keeper candidate in 2015. The issue for Bell, however, is the suspension that’s waiting to smack him in the face.
On August 20, Bell was arrested for driving under the influence. If you recall, Bell was not drunk—he was high (marijuana).
Bell admitted as much: “I didn’t know you could get a DUI for being high. I smoked two hours ago. I’m not high anymore. I’m perfectly fine. Why would I be getting high if I had to make it to my game?”
DUI laws apply to marijuana in the same way they do to alcohol—it's all DUI.
Under the league’s new substance abuse policy, Bell is subject to a two-game ban due to the DUI. Had he pled guilty to the DUI prior to the issuance of the new substance abuse policy, Bell would’ve avoided a suspension and would’ve only paid a fine (up to $50,000).
Perhaps Bell didn’t plead guilty for DUI (as Josh Gordon did immediately and prior to the new substance abuse policy) because he was also charged with possession of marijuana. The possession charge subjects Bell to a four-game timeout. In any event, it's perplexing that he wasn't able to come to an agreement prior to the new substance abuse policy taking effect that would allow him to plead guilty to just the DUI case and have the possession case dismissed.
So as it is now, Bell waived his right to a preliminary hearing on all charges and is campaigning to enter Pennsylvania’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program.
The ARD program is a diversion program that permits first-time defendants charged with minor crimes to complete services in order to have the case ultimately dismissed and the arrest record expunged.
Only the “attorney for the Commonwealth” (prosecutor) can file a motion with the court to consider the case for the ARD program. The defendant (Bell) can request for inclusion into the program, however. In that application, he must make statements to the prosecutor as to why he should be granted inclusion into the program. Those statements cannot be used against the defendant for any purpose in any criminal proceeding.
Bell’s statements will include an admission to the DUI and possession of marijuana—every diversionary program requires the defendant to make admissions of guilt. This is different from Adrian Peterson’s plea when Peterson pled no contest (nolo contendere) and was convicted. “No contest” means a defendant is not challenging the evidence against him or her and is letting the judge determine if there is sufficient evidence for a conviction.
Under the substance abuse policy, the player’s admissions to gain entry into any diversionary program will be evaluated for possible discipline.
Bell has not been accepted into the ARD program yet but his case is ripe for inclusion. Once he does get accepted into the program, the NFL will begin the process of administering discipline under the new substance abuse policy.
It will be irrelevant if Bell completes the ARD program and has his charges dismissed and arrest record expunged for two reasons. First, players cannot avoid punishment under substance abuse policy simply by entering and completing a diversionary program. Secondly, under Pennsylvania law, completion of the ARD program “may be statutorily construed as a conviction for purposes of computing sentences on subsequent convictions.” That means, Bell will have a “first conviction” after completing the ARD program.
It’s widely projected that Bell will receive the mandatory two-game suspension for the DUI only. The unknown in Bell’s case is the possession of marijuana charge.
In all likelihood, the possession charge will be dismissed and he will enter the ARD program based solely on the DUI—that’s a reasonable deal his attorney should be able to work out with the prosecutor.
If that’s the case, Bell will most likely wait until this season is over, enter the ARD program and serve his two-game suspension at the beginning of the 2015 regular season (not preseason). If the league punishes Bell for possession of marijuana, then he would be looking at a four-game suspension.
How much Bell should be discounted in 2015 fantasy drafts based on a two-game ban will be debated. Josh Gordon, circa 2013, will be at the forefront of the Bell debate.
Gordon was suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season and still managed to lead the league in receiving yards and was arguably the best wide receiver to own in fantasy. Gordon had an 8.02 ADP in 2013, according to Fantasy Football Calculator.
With the way Bell is playing now, and with no real threat to his carries, Bell will have a much higher ADP than Gordon’s in 2013. Gordon’s 2012 season wasn’t close to Bell’s 2014 season so drafters will have a better gauge at what they’re getting with Bell, even with him missing the first two games of the season.
And as far as keeping Bell, there’s no question that if you can, you should. Bell is neck-and-neck with DeMarco Murray for the top fantasy running back this year. You need medication if you think Bell isn’t worth keeping because you’ll be without him for two games.
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