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What action do NFL teams take after player gets substance-abuse related suspension?

Many people want the Bills to cut Marcell Dareus because of his four-game suspension. This is a look at what other NFL teams have done in a similar situation.

The Bills shouldn’t cut Marcell Dareus.

Actually, they can’t cut him.

If, right now, Buffalo let him go, they’d incur a $44.6 million dead cap hit, which, obviously, would send them well over the 2016 salary cap, making the transaction void.

But back to the opening sentence.

Should the Bills cut their troubled star defensive tackle?

That debate will rage on for a while.

In the meantime, I wanted to see if there was a precedent set by other teams around the league regarding how players were handled after comparable suspension situations.

My research found that there were 28 non-practice squad players who received at least a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy in 2011 and 2012 alone... and only two of them were either subsequently cut or traded that year. Nick Miller, a return-man for the Rams, simply didn’t make the team’s final cuts in the summer of 2012 after playing on the team in 2011.

Aqib Talib was traded from the Buccaneers to the Patriots during his suspension in 2012.

That means, in the 26 other cases, teams simply accepted their player’s suspension and allowed him to rejoin the team that season. I should add — the overwhelming majority were not stars.

To track a scenario more similar to Dareus, I checked the four-plus game suspensions for substance abuse of "star" players over the past five seasons to get a sense of how their teams treated them.

Starting in 2011, there have been 22 "stars" who fit the above criteria - and only two of them were released after their suspension.

Name Suspension Length Released or Traded?
Fred Davis 4 No
DJ Williams 6 No
Mike Neal 4 No
Joe Haden 4 No
Brandon Browner 4 No
Daryl Washington 4 No
Justin Blackmon 4 No
Bruce Irvin 4 No
Josh Gordon 4 No
Jarvis Jenkins 4 No
Von Miller 6 No
Lane Johnson 4 No
Reshad Jones 4 No
Donald Stephenson 4 No
Aldon Smith 9 No
Laron Landry 4 No
Sheldon Richardson 4 No
Rolando McClain 4 No
Antonio Gates 4 No
Martavis Bryant 4 No
Aqib Talib 4 Yes
Matt Prater 4 Yes

We know what happened with Talib. As for former Broncos kicker Matt Prater, he simply got Wally Pipp’d by his suspension replacement, Brandon McManus.

In the end, I did find a league-wide precedent — teams don’t cut players even after semi-serious suspensions for violating the substance abuse policy, regardless of whether or not that player is a superstar, starter or is just on the roster for depth.