What Can We Actually Learn From The Arrest Numbers For Each NFL Team?

What Can We Actually Learn From The Arrest Numbers For Each NFL Team?
  • Tanya Ray Fox

The conversation surrounding NFL player arrests is never really quiet, but it has reached a dull roar over the past few days after the San Francisco 49ers star linebacker Aldon Smith was arrested on suspicion of DUI, hit and run and vandalism. Of course with the heavy-handed sanctioning of Roger Goodell in recent years for various and sundry offenses – be it with the actual law or the NFL Rulebook – it is interesting to see where each of the 32 NFL teams stack up when it comes to players arrested while on their rosters.

According to research done by Mike Rosenberg with information from the USA Today and San Diego Union-Tribune databases, the Minnesota Vikings lead the league over the last five years with 18 arrests, and the Houston Texans have the lowest arrest rate with an astounding one arrest over that time.

Here’s a look at Rosenberg’s entire breakdown in bar graph and list form.

According to these numbers the NFL averages one player arrest every week. Obviously these statistics alone can only tell the story about how troubled an organization may or may not be in the most broad context. So the question remains; what do these numbers really mean?

There are many variables to be considered, one of the most important of which is how many of these arrests involved possession of small amounts of marijuana. Obviously it can become a dangerous game to weigh the seriousness of one arrest against another, but with marijuana possession legal in some states with NFL teams, it seems unfair to weigh those arrests equally with other criminal offenses like DUI/DWIs and assaults. So in the interest of fairness across the board there should be a disclaimer on those kinds of arrests.

Obviously the NFL rules on marijuana are a totally different thing, so any sanction from the league for possession or consumption of marijuana is a separate issue from this list.

In the Minnesota Vikings’ case, all of their arrests that involved marijuana possession also had secondary charges such as a DWI; or in the case of Jerome Simpson, also driving on a restricted license with an open container. The same goes for the four marijuana-related arrests in San Francisco over the last five years, all of which included secondary offenses. Unsurprisingly, none of the 16 arrests of Denver Broncos players were marijuana related at all.

Classic Colorado.

In comparison, three of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13 arrests were for marijuana possession after merely being pulled over for either a traffic stop or a traffic violation and two of the Colts arrests were based solely on marijuana possession. Javarris James was charged just with possession in 2011, and Ahmad Bradshaw was charged with possession and “following another vehicle too closely.” God forbid.

Going from those teams which are at the top of the list to the other end of the spectrum we see that the one arrest of a Houston Texans player over the last five years occurred in January of 2014 when Akeem Spence was pulled over for speeding in Alabama and accused of marijuana possession after police dog searched car. One arrest for any NFL team is impressive, especially for a team whose performance and consistency over the last five years has been rocky at best.

(There’s a J.J. Watt theory brewing there I just know it. Hard Knocks just got even more intriguing.)

It’s also worth noting that the three arrests each for the Chargers, Giants and Panthers are is impressively low. Is there a common denominator there? If so, it’s probably vague.

Outside of disregarding simple marijuana possession arrests, it’s difficult to analyze which team may have institutional issues based on the type of criminal behavior surrounding each arrest. With that said it’s also hard to ignore the arrest numbers in places like Minnesota, Tampa Bay and San Francisco where it’s easy to draw a connection between higher rates of violent and endangering behavior by the players and the overall instability of the organizations. Without further studies it is certainly far from a conclusive relationship between the two issues, but it insinuates systemic dysfunction that could contribute to risky signings and/or players behaving more recklessly than those that are part of a more stable organization.

The situation in San Francisco is particularly discouraging, as all twelve of their arrests have been since 2012. That number is of course due in large part to Aldon Smith’s five arrests since January of 2012.

With their team in flux after Jim Harbaugh’s controversial departure to return to college football and finally cutting Smith – their pick at 7th overall in the 2011 draft – it’s clear that things are awry in San Francisco. Similarly, the Vikings are 31-48-1 over the last five NFL seasons and have thirteen different quarterbacks play for them in the regular season during that time.

The Broncos and Colts have been very good the overall over the last three seasons but before that they were going through struggles of their own and have since endured coaching changes, among other things. They have not had the steadiness and and consistent program that other premier NFL teams like the Steelers, Patriots, Saints, Giants and Packers have had.

Could that be coincidence? Absolutely, and it probably is to a certain degree either way. Especially considering none of it seems to apply to the Texans and even some other bad or dysfunctional teams with low arrest rates. Conversely, the Patriots have arguably been the best team in football over the last five year span but they are also the only team that we know of that has employed someone indicted for multiple murders and convicted of one. So obviously anything can happen with any particular player in any given city.

Perhaps organizational flaws do go hand in hand with some of the more egregious arrest numbers, but all in all there are too many variables to draw any super meaningful conclusions from these numbers beyond maybe a surface level understanding of which organizations may have fundamental flaws that are possible contributors to player behavior off the field.

In any case though, you’ve got to hand it to Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch and Head Coach Tom Coughlin. The Giants may have had their on the field struggles over the last few years but they haven’t had a player on their roster arrested since Dec. 20, 2013.

If only that effectiveness in performance off the field could extend to Eli’s touchdown to interception ratio.

Tanya Ray Fox

Tanya Ray Fox is a sportswriter and producer who has worked for nearly 7 years in both digital and television sports media. She has previously worked in TV production experience for Comcast SportsNet New England, NFL Network and Time Warner Cable Sports. In addition to her work for SportsGrid and appearances on the affiliated FNTSY Sports Network, she is also a contributor for USA Today's Rams Wire.