Critical cases that changed the NFL in 2014

Several high-profile cases made the off-the-field conduct of NFL players and the league’s handling of such instances the topic of conversation about the NFL last season.

Commissioner Roger Goodell responded by changing the league's personal conduct policy to mandate a minimum six-game suspension for violations involving assault, battery, domestic violence, dating violence, child abuse, other forms of family violence or sexual assault.

That in-season change, however, prompted multiple challenges of the policy and the punishments handed out by the NFL.

On Friday, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy had his suspension reduced from 10 games to four on appeal by arbitrator Harold Henderson.

Here’s a look at Hardy's case and other cases that changed the NFL last year.

Defensive end Greg Hardy

The Case: Hardy was arrested on two misdemeanor charges alleging that he assaulted and threatened his ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder. Mecklenburg County District Court Judge Rebecca Thorne Tin found Hardy guilty in July 2014. Upon his conviction, Hardy appealed and requested a jury trial. By North Carolina law, the appeal set aside the initial verdict. Prosecutors declined to pursue a new trial once Holder made herself unavailable. The district attorney’s office indicated it had reliable information that Hardy had reached a civil settlement with Holder.

Carolina Panthers' response: Hardy played in only one game last season for the Panthers. He was inactive in Week 2 and was placed on the commissioner's exempt list for the season’s final 14 games. He became an unrestricted free agent when the season ended, and the Panthers did not pursue re-signing him.

The league’s response: After conducting an independent investigation, the NFL suspended Hardy, now with the Cowboys, for 10 games for the 2015 season. Upon appeal, the suspension was reduced to four games.

Running back Ray Rice

The Case: Rice and his then-fiancée Janay Palmer were charged with simple assault in February 2014. A grand jury indicted Rice on charges of third-degree aggravated assault in March. Rice was caught on video dragging Palmer out of a casino elevator after punching her inside it. The charges against him were dismissed when Rice completed a pretrial intervention program which included anger management classes. TMZ released a video showing the punch inside the elevator in September.

Baltimore Ravens' response: The Ravens initially stood by Rice but released him after the September video became public.

The league’s response: The NFL initially suspended Rice for two games, and then suspended him indefinitely after the video inside the elevator became public. That indefinite suspension was overturned on an appeal for which former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones served as an independent arbitrator. No team has signed Rice since.

Running back Adrian Peterson

The Case: In September 2014, Peterson was indicted by a grand jury on a felony charge of reckless or negligent injury to a child. The mother of one of Peterson’s sons said that Peterson beat his son with a tree branch, leaving marks on the child, who was then 4 years old. Peterson reached a deal with prosecutors in which he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault and was sentenced to two years of probation and 80 hours of community service and fined $4,000.

Minnesota Vikings' response: The Vikings placed Peterson on the commissioner’s exempt list until the case resolved. Peterson returned to the team to participate in its offseason workouts this year after his April reinstatement.

The league’s response: After his case was resolved on Nov. 11, 2014, the NFL suspended Peterson indefinitely, at least for the rest of the 2014 season. The indefinite suspension was initially upheld by arbitrator Harold Henderson. On Feb. 26, 2015, Judge David Doty, presiding over a U.S. District Court, overturned the suspension. Peterson was reinstated on April 16.

Defensive end Ray McDonald

The Case: On Aug. 31, 2014, McDonald was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence in San Jose. No charges were filed on that incident. In December, McDonald was named as a suspect in a sexual assault investigation. McDonald later sued the woman who accused him of sexual assault. During the last week of May 2015, McDonald was arrested twice in three days. The first arrest stemmed from an accusation of domestic violence and child endangerment, as McDonald was accused of assaulting a woman while she was holding a baby. The incident led to a restraining order against McDonald. Two days later McDonald violated the restraining order and was arrested again. On July 9, prosecutors in California charged McDonald with domestic violence and felony false imprisonment in connection with allegations he assaulted his ex-fiancée while she held their 2-month-old child. McDonald also was charged with child endangerment and violating a court order, the Santa Clara County district attorney's office said. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to three years in prison. He was arraigned but did not enter a plea. He is due back in court in August.

San Francisco 49ers' and Chicago Bears' response: McDonald played in 14 games for the 49ers last season but was released when named in the sexual assault investigation. The Chicago Bears signed McDonald in free agency, but released him on the same day as the first of his two arrests in May.

The league’s response: The NFL has not yet disciplined McDonald.

Other notable cases:

  • Indianapolis Colts linebacker Josh McNary was charged with rape, criminal confinement with bodily injury and battery resulting in bodily injury. He pleaded not guilty and was placed on the commissioner's exempt list.

  • New Orleans Saints linebacker Junior Galette was charged with domestic violence and simple battery, but the charges were dropped for lack of evidence.

  • Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was charged with aggravated assault, a felony, and several misdemeanors after being accused of assaulting his wife. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct and was sentenced to 18 months of probation and community service.