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NFL needs to revise its Commissioner Exempt list procedures

Football Night in America discusses the key topics of Week 13, including the Packers firing head coach Mike McCarthy and the Chiefs releasing Kareem Hunt.

Four years ago, the NFL devised the Commissioner Exempt list as a tool for keeping players in the early days of serious off-field trouble away from the field. The NFL now needs to come up with a tool for keeping these players away from the headlines, too.

It’s an idea Mike Tirico of NBC’s Football Night in America suggested on Sunday. A pause button of sorts that would keep a player like former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt from being released and in turn being exposed to waivers only a handful of days after his placement on the Commissioner Exempt list. And in tuen being claimed on waivers, kicking up multiple days of needless dust.

Setting aside for now the very real concerns about how the NFL got to the point where it didn’t get the surveillance video showing Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel and/or hadn’t even interviewed Hunt about the situation while waiting for more information to emerge from a pipeline that had gone dry, the league needs to consider how it handles these issues moving forward from the moment that a paid suspension begins.

Basically, and as Tirico suggested, everything needs to be frozen in place. The player can’t be released or, at a minimum, the player can’t be claimed on waivers in the immediate aftermath of a release.

The current procedure forces the player into multiple news cycles at a time when the NFL would prefer that the player disappear, at least for now. Last week’s Reuben Foster debacle showed what happens when a team (and it was only one team) tries to secure dibs on a player who likely will be cleared at some point in the future to play. Today, someone may give in to the temptation to take a flier on the former Toledo Rocket who became the NFL’s rushing champion as a rookie.

The fact that the Browns won’t rule it out shows that teams will make football decisions regardless of P.R. complications. Yes, the Foster situation played out poorly, but other teams may believe that they can handle the situation much better (or at least not as badly) as Washington did. In the end, the goal is to win football games, and the sudden availability of a player like Kareem Hunt will help win football games, even if not until a year from now.

So here’s where the league needs to implement a freeze that applies whenever a formal review as to whether a player should be placed on the Commissioner Exempt list commences. (Foster was actually cut after his latest incident but before he was placed on the paid leave.) For the team that is forced to pay a player who isn’t available to play, that’s the price of employing a player with the propensity to get in trouble and/or failing to keep him out of trouble.

Regardless, the greater good of the league will be promoted by not trusting other teams to do the right thing in the face of a strong temptation to acquire a talented player. Last week’s example proved that all teams can’t be trusted. So the better course would be to not tempt them.