Like it or not, the NFLPA is planning to present a proposal to reduce the current penalties for marijuana use to the NFL. Although details are not known at this time, the proposal reflects a belief that there may actually be beneficial effects from THC use, especially for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), or the cumulative effects of concussions, and a tacit admission that the drug is widely used on a recreational basis by many current players. But nothing comes for free in the NFL, and Roger Goodell has already dropped some heavy hints that the league will expect some kind of concession or concessions in return.
This is of course something of interest to fans of the Dallas Cowboys, because a change in the policy could mean that Randy Gregory might be able to see the field for them. He is currently under a one-year suspension for what is widely believed to be smoking pot, and any reduction there could really help the team, based on what he flashed in the two games he was able to play in 2016.
So what might the league ask for? Here are some suggestions.
More practices. There is a general belief that the pendulum has swung a bit too far towards resting players. The cost has been a perceived decline in the quality of play. There are a variety of ways the league could go with this.
The NFL could ask to add more OTA days and/or minicamp practices. This would give the coaching staffs more time to work with players, especially the rookies, something that it is likely all teams would welcome. They could opt for just non-contact time, or add a padded practice or two in the mix.
This could also be applied during training camps, which are currently strictly limited. And there could be added padded practices during the regular season as well.
An eighteen week season. Note that this is not eighteen games, but an extra week for the season while still playing sixteen games. This is one that the players might well be very open to, since it would mean a second bye week, and all indications are that is something that almost all players would like. Those weeks of rest are invaluable in getting a little healthier.
For the league, there are several benefits. The biggest is that it gives them something to offer the networks, namely one more week of games to broadcast. It would just spread out things a bit, but it appears that there would still be good viewership, particularly for the better matchups that fans could watch when their team is off. It also would be a small but still significant move towards a longer season, which the league has been eyeing for some time.
And if handled correctly by the schedulers, it might even help with the current perception that the Thursday night games are fairly lackluster. By scheduling the bye weeks for TNF participants the week before they hit the TNF schedule, teams would be able to get in plenty of preparation, while still having longer time to rest up both before and after the game. It might not be universally applicable, but most of the games could benefit from this, especially if the league sticks with the 16 game TNF slate, which could be delayed a week at the beginning of the season. This has some good things for both sides.
And it is worth noting that the NCAA may be moving to two mandatory byes for its football programs. If it is a good thing at that level, it is certainly even better in the faster, more violent world of the NFL.
Finally, the best thing for the league to ask for:
Absolutely nothing. OK, this is probably a real non-starter, but it is also the wisest choice for multiple reasons.
First, the current policy has zero benefit for teams. Last year, over thirty players were suspended for non-PED substance abuse violations, and while there is no easily accessible data on how many were for marijuana, the belief is that pot was the reason for the bulk of them. Given that there is no performance enhancing benefit to smoking marijuana, suspending players for smoking it does not have any effect on the actual play on the field. All it does is take a player away from the team. And although some owners may feel they benefit from their opponents being punished, it is really just a matter of time until they feel the bite of having one of their players forced to sit.
Currently, marijuana is legal in California, Washington State, Washington D.C., Massachusetts, and Nevada, all of which have or, in the case of Las Vegas, likely will have NFL franchises in place (and the Raiders would just be moving from one legal state to another in any case). That means seven NFL teams now exist where it is perfectly legal to purchase and use pot, and it seems logical that players who like to use would have a hard time abstaining when it is so readily and legally available. In addition, EVERY OTHER STATE that has an NFL team has some form of medical marijuana use on the books, although several, including Texas, have laws that are not effective because of other legal issues.
Currently the NFL is bucking a national movement towards acceptance of marijuana as either a recreational intoxicant on the level of alcohol or a valid treatment for some medical problems, many of which would apply to the painful injuries that are a fact of life in pro football.
More importantly, there is a shrinking logic behind continuing the NFL ban on marijuana use. There remains a lack of any real proof that it is any worse than drinking or smoking tobacco, both of which are legally practiced by NFL players. Smoking is less prevalent for the obvious effects it has on athletic performance, but if you include the occasional cigar, you probably still have a significant number of players who sometimes partake. There is also a strong scent of hypocrisy here. You have to wonder just how many of those very wealthy owners could pass a lie detector test asserting they had never had an illegal substance. We know that several have been seen clearly intoxicated, apparently from alcohol, which is of course perfectly within their rights. But has there ever been anything else going on?
There are still some moral arguments about the use of marijuana, but those just seem to be losing weight, no matter how you may feel personally. In the moral arena, the league has bigger issues to deal with, such as the way players pay for their careers with lingering health problems and the issue of domestic violence. That is, of course, also a personal opinion.
However, the point is that less severe consequences for using marijuana would have no real negative effects on the game, and several positive ones, especially if the use of pot or at least THC is proven to help those suffering from CTE. The NFL should set aside their pride and hard-nosed approach to bargaining and accept the NFLPA's proposal as good for the game.
But that is not how things work, sadly.