The Buffalo Bills have decided releasing Matt Araiza is the ‘right thing’ to do, two days after the rookie punter was charged with raping a teenager in a civil lawsuit.
The only surprise is that it took so long.
“Our culture in Buffalo is more important than winning football games,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said Saturday night.
After a “thorough review” by the team failed to produce enough information for management to act, troubling details in the lawsuit along with backlash from the public forced the Bills to cut Araiza.
“We were trying not to rush to judgment,” Beane said. “Obviously Matt’s version was different.”
Thanks to a dynamic offense led by Josh Allen and a solid defense, the Bills enter the season as favorites to win the Super Bowl, according to bettors. They don’t need a sixth-round pick — even a “Punt God” — to make a difference in January and February.
After suspending Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson 11 games for sexual misconduct, the NFL is concerned about public perception and commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear the league will not tolerate any violence against women.
But the NFL has limits on that because the incident happened while Araiza was in college, so he can’t be punished under the personal conduct policy. The league prefers to let the legal process take place first.
“The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press,” Araiza said in a statement released by his agent, Joe Linta. “I look forward to quickly setting the record straight.”
A San Diego police investigation has been assigned to the district attorney’s office to determine whether to proceed with the prosecution. DA spokeswoman Tanya Sierra said Friday there was no timeline as to how long a decision will take.
Still, “protecting the shield” comes first. There was no time to wait then.
Araiza, who led San Diego State to a record-breaking season and two of his former Aztecs teammates, were charged with gang-raping a 17-year-old girl at an off-campus party last fall. The California teenager’s attorney told The Associated Press on Friday that Bills had not contacted him for further details.
“We’re not perfect,” Beane said. “You hear things. You try to find out what is fact and what is an accusation. Well, we don’t know. We are not detectives.
Beane acknowledged that the team’s investigation was not complete.
“There’s a lot of stuff we couldn’t get our hands on,” Beane said. “You try to put facts around a legal situation sometimes with limited information.”
The Bills also didn’t do enough homework before the draft. Beane said the team was unaware of Araiza’s involvement in the incident until the draft.
Several other team leaders also told the AP they were unaware. But executives from two different teams told the AP they learned of Araiza’s involvement in an incident during the drafting process. Neither person knew the full extent of the allegations and both people said it did not affect Araiza’s status on their selection boards as they were not interested in the punter’s selection.
All of the people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
NFL teams usually research players extensively before the draft, especially the players they plan to select in the early rounds. It’s not uncommon for someone with a potential red flag to slip into the draft.
Although he won the Ray Guy award as the nation’s best bettor in college football, Araiza was not the first of four bettors drafted. Penn State’s Jordan Stout was selected in the fourth round at 130 overall by the Ravens, and Georgia’s Jake Camarda was picked by the Buccaneers three picks later.
Some clubs, of course, do a better job researching players and uncovering character questions. The Bills fell well short of their assessment of Araiza, who was chosen with the 180th pick.
Araiza is innocent until proven guilty, but it wasn’t too late for the Bills to correct a mistake.
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.
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