Daryl Washington's future in NFL's hands

It's been a year to forget for Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington.

On April 3, 2013, he was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of last season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

A month later he was arrested and charged with aggravated assault stemming from an altercation with ex-girlfriend who is also the mother of his child.

On March 24, he pleaded guilty. And on Wednesday in Phoenix, the Pro Bowler was sentenced to a year of supervised probation.

Now it's up to the NFL to decide his fate on the field.

Washington's suspension last April stemmed from his second violation of the league's substance abuse policy. His arrest falls under the NFL's personal conduct policy, of which offenses are typically addressed separately. The league, however, has the authority to take into account all of Washington's violations, regardless of policy, when it addresses his punishment.

And that could mean bad news for Washington and the Cardinals.

It seems almost certain he will be suspended. But for how long? That is the great unknown in this situation. If the NFL treats his personal conduct policy violation separately (he's a first-time offender), then Washington could get suspended for a game or two, at most. Or it could be a combination of a one-game suspension plus docked pay or a fine.

Then again, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could look at the time frame in which all of Washington's violations occurred and drop the hammer. Though that is highly unlikely, there is a remote possibility that Washington could be facing another four-game suspension or longer.

“The specifics of the disciplinary response will be based on the nature of the incident, the actual or threatened risk to the participant and others, any prior or additional misconduct (whether or not criminal charges were filed), and other relevant factors,” the personal conduct policy reads.

Washington's case gets murky because there isn't a defined suspension schedule for violating the personal conduct policy like there is for violating the substance abuse policy. According to the personal conduct policy, the commissioner has “full authority” to levy any discipline “as warranted.”

Washington could also be required to undergo a clinical evaluation, according to the league's personal conduct policy.

“Based on the results of that evaluation, the person may be encouraged or required to participate in an education program, counseling or other treatment deemed appropriate by health professionals,” the policy reads. “The evaluation and any resulting counseling or treatment are designed to provide assistance and are not considered discipline; however, the failure to comply with this portion of the Policy shall itself constitute a separate and independent basis for discipline.”

These are relatively unknown waters for the league because rarely, if ever, has a player violated both policies. Former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry violated both. There are also examples of players violating the substance abuse policy and the performance enhancing drugs or steroids policy. It has been reported that Vincent Jackson was suspended three games in July 2010 for violating both the substance abuse and personal conduct policies.

Though he doesn’t have a lot of precedent to lean on, Goodell doesn’t need precedent. But history shows that if the NFL addresses Washington’s personal conduct policy violation separately, he’s likely to get a one-game suspension.

There is another case that recently wrapped up which could be a point of reference. Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence in 2012, but pled guilty to a lesser charge in February. Lynch violated the substance abuse policy five years after he violated the league's personal conduct policy stemming from a hit-and-run incident in Buffalo in 2008.

The league is unlikely to lump Lynch's offenses together because they took place five years apart.

Without clear-cut guidelines, the door is open for the NFL to punish Washington in any manner it sees fit.