The NFL can’t tell teams which college prospects to select this weekend.
However, the league can control which players participate in its draft festivities.
Shane Ray should have lost that honor immediately Monday when news broke that he was cited for marijuana possession followed by an inferred admission to the offense. Yet as of Tuesday morning, the University of Missouri defensive end/outside linebacker was still slated as one of 28 players who will be showcased later this week in Chicago.
The NFL would be wise to rescind that invitation.
A league that has already suffered major public embarrassment in 2014 because of off-field conduct issues would experience another if Ray were allowed to walk on stage and receive a congratulatory hug from commissioner Roger Goodell.
The NFL has shown lenience in the past with players who ran afoul of the law after they had agreed to attend the draft. One example is Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby. He was cited for an alcohol-related driving offense two weeks before last year’s dog-and-pony show in New York City. Roby, who quickly pled guilty to the charge, still headed to Radio City Music Hall and ended up being Denver’s first-round pick.
This happened, though, before the league’s image suffered a huge hit last fall from other player misconduct.
The offenses of Roby and Ray weren’t as egregious as Ray Rice slapping his then-fiancee Janay on a casino elevator or Adrian Peterson’s abuse of his four-year-old son. But those latter two incidents have caused the mainstream spotlight to shine brighter than ever on player misconduct. It also led to league reforms about how the NFL handles off-field incidents in hopes of deterring further incidents and mitigating the subsequent PR hit when they do occur.
Ray is now automatically enrolled in the behavioral portion of the NFL’s substance-abuse program. Goodell and Co. have a further chance to send a powerful statement nonetheless by telling him his presence is no longer requested at their event.
How early Ray would get chosen already was in question. Solely from a talent standpoint, Ray is a potential Top 10 pick with so many teams drafting early in need of improved pass rush. Ray set Mizzou’s single-season sack record with 14.5 in 2014 to earn SEC Defensive Player of the Year and All-America honors.
Ray now may drop out of the first round entirely.
He made a horrific mistake at the worst possible time for his professional career when cited in Cooper County, Missouri for possession of 35 grams or less of weed following an early-morning traffic offense. Ray’ draft stock already was suspect after news surfaced last week of a toe injury. Further damage from his citation is compounded by an NFL Network report that Ray failed a drug test early in his college career.
Interested suitors now have every right to wonder whether Ray can stay sober enough to play for them as well as handle the off-field temptations inherent in being an NFL player — especially when handed a large sum of money as part of his rookie contract.
Ray did show remorse Monday night by issuing an apology for his "poor judgment."
"I am embarrassed and realize there are consequences for my actions," he said.
Those consequences should include having to spend his draft weekend someplace other than where he had planned.