Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
09 Aug 2004
Guest Column by Shawn Rasmussen
Rumors continue to fly about the sudden release of Quincy Carter by the Dallas Cowboys. Anonymous sources, unattributed quotes, and pure speculation abound and make the story extremely confusing and sometimes contradictory. In an attempt to sort things out, I've outlined nine things we know about Carter and his release, with supporting quotes for those facts. Following that, I attempt to draw logical conclusions based on those facts.
1. Carter was released because of a substance abuse problem.
On ESPN 103.3 in Dallas, Jean Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News asked Jerry Jones, "Would you characterize this release as being related to a substance abuse problem?" Jones responded, "If you were to assume that the release was because of a substance abuse problem, you would not be wrong." Separately, Players Association chief Gene Upshaw said, "I can't comment on a drug case."
2. Jones made the decision to release Carter, based upon a policy Bill Parcells insisted on as a condition of Parcells taking the job.
At the press conference announcing Carter's release, Jones said Carter's release stemmed from a violation of "team policy, Bill's philosophy and what we are about. This is Bill's policy ... when we started talking about our football team we talked philosophy ... our decision had to do with what we discussed from the beginning." Parcells added, "Jerry and I talked a lot about philosophy about football. And what kinds of players I want on my team."
3. Parcells signed off on Jones' decision and informed Carter.
Jones and Parcells made it pretty clear at the press conference that Jones made the decision to cut Carter and that Parcells agreed to that decision.
4. The substance in question is not cocaine.
Carter said in the Dallas Morning News, "The one thing I know and the people who have been around me all my life know is that cocaine has never been an issue for me. It never will be." Michael Smith of the Boston Globe wrote, "Quincy Carter told the truth last week when he told the Dallas Morning News that the illegal substance for which he has twice tested positive was not cocaine. It was marijuana, according to two sources familiar with the situation in Dallas, who citing league confidentiality rules, spoke on the condition of anonymity. " While you won't easily find it on their web site, Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News reports that FoxSports.com (who initially reported the the cocaine rumor) has quietly retracted the cocaine allegation.
5. Carter's substance abuse problem has been ongoing for years, dating back to college, and has been an ongoing concern the entire duration of Carter's stay with Cowboys.
ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli reported that Carter had spent time at a drug rehabilitation facility within the past 18 months and was already in the NFL's substance-abuse program. KLTV in Dallas reported that "an NFL source says Carter entered the league in the substance abuse program." Randy Galloway reported, "When Bill was hired in January 2003, Carter was entering drug rehab." Michael Smith wrote in the Boston Globe, "Carter has been in the NFL's substance abuse program for a little more than 19 months. He was trying to get help, as early last year he checked himself into a league-approved, Boston-area treatment clinic. He also has been seeing a counselor and spent more time in a rehab facility before the opening of training camp July 30 in Oxnard, CA. Carter, who was in stage-two of the program and being tested twice per week, failed a league-administered test in late-June/early-July." Reports also claim Carter entered the league in the substance abuse program in 2001.
6. The issue was serious enough that Carter's contract addressed the issue. This is within the parameters of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
Jones said, "The league has [Carter's] contract, and the union has an opportunity to look at it, if they want. I'm not a bit frustrated. I know the circumstances involved." According to the CBA's section on "testing by agreement," "An NFL club and a player may agree that such player will submit to unannounced testing during the term of said player's NFL Player Contract provided that the club has a reasonable basis for requesting such agreement." According to an ESPN report, the Cowboys are trying to recover part of Carter's signing bonus, "citing specific language in Carter's contract."
7. Parcells planned on Carter being the starting QB this season.
In a press conferences after Carter's release, Parcells said "I think any coach's perception changes if all of a sudden you have a combination of things that come together at the same time that destroy the fabric of your team or make it very difficult to go forward the way you want to." Parcells also said, "We will have to alter some things in terms of strategy. We'll have to do some things which will be more in line with the classic drop back passer." NFL.com's Vic Carucci noted that "Bill Parcells' preference was to stick with Carter at the top of his depth chart."
8. Carter could return to the team if he can prove that he has resolved the problem.
At the press conference announcing Carter's release, Parcells said, "I wouldn't close the door on anything in life ... there could be things done that would make us consider ... sometime WAY down the road, possibly consider [bringing Carter back.]"
9. Carter stands a good chance of being picked up by another team, but those teams also have concerns about Carter's substance abuse.
According to Saturday's Dallas Morning News, "No team placed a waiver claim on the 26-year-old Carter on Thursday, so he is free to sign with any club. About 10 teams, including Minnesota, Arizona and Detroit, have inquired about signing him." The Detroit Lions' chief operating officer Tom Lewand discussed some of the concerns the Lions would have with signing Carter, but declined to comment on if the team might sign him. The Minneapolis Pioneer Press reported that the Vikings decided against putting a waiver claim on quarterback Quincy Carter; "the Vikings like Carter for his experience and athletic ability but decided the move was too risky."
Dallas claims the test Carter failed was an NFL administered one. But there are strong indications that Carter failed two tests in the past 2 months. So, it is plausible that Carter failed the pre-camp league administered test, went back to treatment, then failed a second test while at training camp. (Note that failing a test while at camp does not necessarily mean Carter was smoking dope there, as marijuana is detectable for up to a month.) While the team is allowed to test players if it is contractually agreed to, once a player fails such a test, the CBA procedure overrides the contractual provisions and the team can no longer test a player on their own.
Jones made direct reference to Carter's contract when questioned about the NFLPA filing a grievance, which makes it clear that there were clauses regarding drug use included in that contract. This is specifically allowed in the CBA.
If Carter was in rehab 19 months ago, then he would have been in the substance abuse program at that point, and subject to up to 10 unannounced tests per month.
If Carter failed two tests this summer, then the first would result in a four-game fine, and the second would result in a four-game suspension and advancement to stage three of the substance abuse program. A player can complete stage two and revert to a clean slate, but a player in stage three remains in the program for their entire NFL career. Failing a test while in stage three results in a minimum one-year suspension.
Thus, two failed tests by Carter would result in a fine of four games pay, plus a four-game suspension, plus subject him to a one-year suspension if he ever failed another test.
So, if Carter "entered the league in the substance abuse program" then the Cowboys could have invoked Section C.1.d of the CBA to include clauses about substance abuse in Carter's contract. However, Carter could have been released from the substance abuse program by staying clean for two years. However if he was indeed in rehab 19 months ago (January 2003) then he would not have been discharged from the program. It's unclear whether Carter failed a test at that time. If he did, then that test would have resulted in a four game fine during the 2003 season, and the failed test in June/July 2004 would mandate a four game suspension to begin the 2004 season. In this case, if he failed a second test in the past two months, he would also be suspended for an additional year; meaning he would be suspended for twenty games starting now.
The fact that Parcells was preparing his offense as if Carter would start indicates the latter scenario is not the case, or at least that Parcells was unaware of it. It also indicates that to Parcells' knowledge, Carter was only going to be fined, not suspended, to begin the 2004 season.
This leaves three scenarios that explain Jones sudden decision to cut Carter.
He may have just been notified Tuesday that Carter's recent failure would result in a four-game suspension when he was expecting a four-game fine, or he may have found out that Carter had failed a second test this summer which would result in a four-game suspension. In either case, Carter would advance to stage three of the SAP where any further failure would mean a one-year suspension.
Either of these scenarios is plausible, explains the Cowboys actions, and explains why 10 teams were interested in acquiring Carter but then backed out. Under the CBA, if a team "is contemplating acquiring a player through the waiver system" or "has contacted a ... free agent or that player's Certified Contract Advisor and is considering making an offer to and/or signing such player" the NFL will disclose pending or potential suspensions under the substance abuse program.
The third scenario is a combination of the first two, where Jones was notified Tuesday that Carter's recent failure would result in a suspension when he was expecting a four-game fine, and that Carter had failed a second test which would lead to him being suspended for a total of at least 20 games. This scenario seems unlikely, as not even a hint of a pending year-long suspension has been leaked.
A team might take a chance with a QB having a potential four game suspension hanging over his head, but no team can make the investment in a QB who has a potential year long suspension and is currently still having problems controlling his addiction.
Shawn Rassmussen is a Dallas fan and Commissioner of ONAFA, an online sim league using Sierra Football Pro 98.