Content warning: this story contains details of rape and sexual violence.
In October 2021, then-San Diego State punter Matt Araiza was making a name for himself as the biggest-legged punter in college football. He was also accused of leading a vicious gang rape of a then-17-year-old high school student at a college party. She went to police the next day, and over the days that followed, Araiza’s name was apparently churned into the campus rumor mill regarding the incident along with a handful of his Aztec teammates.
According to Rob Maaddi, the Lead NFL Writer for the Associated Press, it was a mixed bag of information around the league. Some teams knew and some teams didn’t. Perhaps that’s why Araiza lasted until the sixth round when punters started coming off the board in the fourth round.
“A person familiar with the case told the AP’s John Wawrow the Bills were not aware of the allegations against Araiza in April,” began Maaddi. “I spoke to executives from 5 different teams. 2 were aware; 3 weren’t.”
He continued with a screenshot of text:
“Executives from two different teams said they became aware of Araiza’s involvement in an incident during the draft process, but neither person knew the extent of the allegations,” tweeted Maaddi. “Both people said it didn’t impact Araiza’s status on their draft board because they weren’t interested in selecting a punter. Executives from three other teams said they had no knowledge of the allegations against Araiza before the draft and only learned of the incident Thursday [August 25th]. All the people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.”
A person familiar with the case told the AP’s @john_wawrow the Bills were not aware of the allegations against Araiza in April. I spoke to executives from 5 different teams. 2 were aware; 3 weren’t. More info pic.twitter.com/TNvSnmHOpk— Rob Maaddi (@RobMaaddi) August 26, 2022
So two teams that weren’t even doing deep dives on Araiza found out that information. At the same time, it was less than half of the teams Maaddi spoke with. Do the Bills get the benefit of the doubt?
This type of boots-on-the-ground scouting is something the Bills are known for, or at least have been over the last few years. Senior front office exec Dan Morgan did profiles with multiple media agencies talking about exactly this subject of making personal connections with people on campus to learn the stuff that isn’t publicized.
But Dan Morgan left last year, hired by the Carolina Panthers to be their assistant general manager in May of 2021. The Bills’ own assistant general manager, Joe Schoen, was hired by the New York Giants in January of 2022. The Bills didn’t hire for either of those positions until after the 2022 NFL Draft where they picked Araiza. They spread out the work among the guys they had in the building.
Further complicating this process over the last two years has been the COVID-19 pandemic, where those casual face-to-face conversations and random interactions between scouts and colleges were taken away or severely limited.
Should one of the scouts that went to San Diego State to speak with people and watch Araiza play have unearthed this disgusting rumor about him in November, December, or beyond? Absolutely. That’s the due diligence the front office expects.
Instead, Araiza’s criminal lawyer says the team didn’t find out until after the draft and really the entire offseason. It was only in the last six weeks since he’s been retained by his client that the team found out. Dan Gilleon, the attorney for the accuser in this case, says he spoke with the Bills on July 31 and August 1. Tim Graham confirmed via team sources that the Bills found out in July.
Even then, they knew of the vast majority of the allegations when they cut Matt Haack and made Matt Araiza the team’s punter. They knew of the vast majority of the allegations when head coach Sean McDermott went on a national show this week and called Matt Araiza a “good kid.” They knew of the vast majority of the allegations when they allowed star QB Josh Allen (who had no reason on earth to know the land mine he was stepping on) to talk about him in a press conference earlier this week in glowing terms as a “great guy.”
McDermott claims he learned “some” new information in the 24 hours between the civil lawsuit being filed and his emotional his press conference Friday night. The rest of the timeline still needs filling in and fast. What did the Bills know and when? What were they blindsided by? What lies were told and by whom?
Ultimately the biggest question in future situations is what mistakes were made before the draft that didn’t allow the team to get ahead of this story and not select him in the first place. Other teams knew, so why not us?
- Matt Araiza among 3 SDSU football players accused of gang rape
- Attorneys on both sides of Araiza gang-rape lawsuit trade public barbs
- Matt Araiza won’t play against Panthers (but did travel with the team)
- Araiza releases first public statement since lawsuit filed in gang-rape case
- Bills’ coach Sean McDermott emotional addressing Matt Araiza gang-rape accusations