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NFL Likely to Take its Time in Decision on Punishment for Chad Wheeler

By: Collin Giuliani

On January 23, 2021, Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Chad Wheeler was arrested on suspicion of felony assault-domestic violence.[1] Wheeler’s trial date is set for June 1.[2] Four days after Wheeler was arrested, the Seahawks cut ties with him, and released him from the team.[3] In a statement put out by the organization, the Seahawks stated, “the Seahawks are saddened by the details emerging against Chad Wheeler and strongly condemn this act of domestic violence. Our thoughts and support are with the victim. Chad is a free agent and no longer with the team.”[4]

Wheeler’s conduct and subsequent release have led many to wonder if the National Football League can take any additional action against Wheeler, as per the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Under Article 46 of the CBA, the league may fine and suspend a player for conduct detrimental to the league.[5] Domestic violence is not explicitly listed under this provision.[6] However, in 2014, in the wake of the Ray Rice incident, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a bright-line rule to deal with domestic violence.[7] Under this rule, any NFL employee, including a player, who is first-time offender will be suspended without pay for six games, with a second offense resulting in a one-year suspension.[8]

One does not have to be arrested or charged with a crime to be suspended under this policy. In 2010, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games after allegedly raping a woman.[9] Roethlisberger was never charged or arrested, and this suspension was eventually reduced to four games.[10] In 2018, then-Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended three games for touching an Uber driver “in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent.”[11] Winston was never charged or arrested.[12] Because of this, the outcome of Wheeler’s June trial would not make any difference for any possible punishment.

However, since Wheeler is not employed by any team, the NFL currently does not have any incentive to punish him for his actions. If a team signs Wheeler, either after the trial, if he is found innocent, or years down the road, then the Commissioner would have incentive to enforce a suspension.[13] This could be the traditional six-game suspension, or one of lesser length, as the league has acted somewhat inconsistently.[14] If the NFL punishes Wheeler, it would make more sense to enforce the suspension after he is signed, instead of the first six weeks of the 2021 season, when no team would consider signing him to begin with.

The odds that the NFL will need to do anything are slim. Wheeler was an undrafted free agent who has spent the majority of the past two seasons on Seattle’s practice squad.[15] Wheeler has not started a game since 2018, and has appeared in just five games over the past two seasons.[16] However, while it is unlikely that Wheeler plays in the NFL again, this incident raises questions about the CBA, and whether the CBA is tough enough on domestic violence. The CBA does not give the power for players to be fined for incidents that occurred while that person was playing in the league if that player is no longer playing.[17] The CBA was extended during the 2020 offseason, and runs until 2030.[18] Nowhere in the new CBA does this policy change.[19] Players such as Tyreek Hill have received minimal punishment for domestic violence allegations, and while the Commissioner has the authority to issue punishments, they are often not at the maximum level.[20] While Wheeler may be punished through the court system, his odds of getting punished by his employer are slim.


[1] Brady Henderson, Seattle Seahawks’ Chad Wheeler arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, ESPN (Jan. 26, 2021), https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/30780405/seattle-seahawks-chad-wheeler-arrested-suspicion-domestic-violence.

[2] Brady Henderson, Former Seattle Seahawks OL Chad Wheeler has trial in domestic violence case moved to June, ESPN (Feb. 11, 2021), https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/30882951/former-seattle-seahawks-dl-chad-wheeler-trial-domestic-violence-case-moved-june.

[3] Charean Williams, Seahawks release statement on Chad Wheeler who is “no longer on the team,” NBC Sports (Jan. 27, 2021), https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2021/01/27/seahawks-release-statement-on-chad-wheeler-who-is-no-longer-on-the-team/.

[4] Id.

[5] National Football League Collective Bargaining Agreement (2020). 

[6] Ken Belson, N.F.L. Domestic Violence Policy Toughened in Wake of Ray Rice Case, N.Y. Times (Aug. 28, 2014), https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/29/sports/football/roger-goodell-admits-he-was-wrong-and-alters-nfl-policy-on-domestic-violence.html.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Roethlisberger suspended by NFL, ESPN (Apr. 21, 2010), https://www.espn.com/nfl/news/story?id=5121614.

[10] Id.

[11] Michael D. Smith, NFL shows once again that its six-game suspension policy is meaningless, NBC Sports (June 29, 2018), https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2018/06/29/nfl-shows-once-again-that-its-six-game-suspension-policy-is-meaningless/.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] John P. Gilbert, Report: Seahawks reserve offensive lineman Chad Wheeler arrested, Field Gulls (Jan. 26, 2021), https://www.fieldgulls.com/2021/1/26/22244622/seattle-seahawks-offensive-lineman-chad-wheeler-arrested.

[16] Ken Belson, Chad Wheeler Charged With Felony Assault in Domestic Attack Case, N.Y. Times (Jan. 28, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/28/sports/football/chad-wheeler-nfl-domestic-violence.html.

[17] National Football League Collective Bargaining Agreement (2020)

[18] Dan Graziano, NFL CBA approved: What players get in new deal, how expanded playoffs and schedule will work, ESPN (Mar. 15, 2020), https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/28901832/nfl-cba-approved-players-get-new-deal-how-expanded-playoffs-schedule-work#:~:text=The%20proposed%20new%20deal%20runs,approved%20by%20the%20players%2C%20however.

[19] Id.

[20] Jenny Vrentas, Tyreek Hill’s Verbal Threat Should Have Warranted an NFL Suspension, Sports Illustrated (July 19, 2019), https://www.si.com/nfl/2019/07/19/tyreek-hill-chiefs-child-abuse-investigation-avoids-nfl-suspension.