Terrelle Pryor will have an opportunity to pursue his NFL dreams, with one significant caveat: The former Ohio State star still must pay for breaking NCAA rules while he was in college.
The league announced Thursday that Pryor is eligible for its supplemental draft, but he won't be allowed to practice for the team that selects him until Week 6. Pryor gave up his final season of eligibility with the Buckeyes following an investigation into the team's memorabilia-for-cash scandal.
Pryor would've had to sit out five games had he chosen to return to Ohio State.
"We accept that voluntarily," Pryor's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told The Associated Press. "It's a small price to pay for him to have a chance to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL."
It's a small price that could have broader consequences.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith worked together on the decision, Rosenhaus said. The league hopes it will dissuade future college players who run afoul of the NCAA from trying to use the NFL as a means of escaping punishment. But it also creates this dilemma: Does the NFL have the authority to suspend a player who doesn't even work for the NFL yet?
Citing a union source, NFL Network's Albert Breer reported the NFLPA was prepared to fight any suspension levied on Pryor that related to his actions as a collegian, but the quarterback's camp chose to accept the penalty. Had Pryor decided to fight the suspension, it's possible the league would have ruled him ineligible all together, and a court battle delaying his pro career could have followed.
"I know players are concerned about the message this sends," said Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, a member of the players' executive committee. "Granted, making this 'deal' was an individual decision made by a player with counsel from his agent and lawyer. They have every right to make whatever deal they want for his personal future. That being said, the general concern now is how far into Pandora's box this may go.
|Terrelle Pryor enjoyed three standout seasons for Ohio State before an illegal benefits scandal led to him leaving the school. (Matthew Emmons/US Presswire)|
"This raises so many questions, and I think players are rightfully concerned."
The league informed teams that Pryor "made decisions that undermine the integrity of the eligibility rules for the NFL draft." Among those actions, the league said, were the hiring of an agent in violation of NCAA rules and a failure to cooperate with the investigation that cost then-Ohio State coach Jim Tressel his job. The NCAA committee on infractions is working to determine the school's final penalties.
League spokesman Greg Aiello tweeted you can't break the rules as Pryor did "and get a free pass into the NFL."
Goodell didn't confer with NCAA president Mark Emmert on the decision, said Bob Williams, a spokesman for the college sports governing body. The commissioner "called Mark to inform him of his intent. Nothing more," Williams said.
One of the points of contention during negotiations for a new NFL labor agreement was the authority given to the commissioner to hand out punishment. In the end, there were no changes to Goodell's position, but his decision to suspend Pryor worried players.
"I don't understand," said Bills safety George Wilson, an NFLPA representative. "My question is, with this Miami probe, are those players who took those gifts, are those guys -- guys that violated NCAA regulations -- are they subject to his discipline as well? Is it retroactive? This opens up a big can of worms.
"You can't pick and choose when you want to apply, when you don't want to apply, who you stick it to, who you don't stick it to. It needs to be clearly defined. I don't agree with it. But we have to see how he chooses to proceed as well as the union. It's just setting a whole totally different precedent."
David Cornwell, Pryor's attorney, said he was pleased the quarterback is eligible for the supplemental draft -- which was his "primary objective" -- although having to sit out five games wasn't the ideal situation.
"The NFL's concern all along was protecting the integrity of the draft process," Cornwell said in an email to The AP. "We understood their concerns, accept that they are legitimate concerns, and worked through the process to demonstrate that Terrelle's decisions regarding making himself eligible were reasonable, if not perfect. The commissioner gave serious consideration to the various issues and decided to balance those issues by allowing Terrelle into the supplemental draft with conditions."
Cornwell said it was "not a perfect result," but it evidently was good enough for Pryor, who tweeted: "God bless and thanks for support! Time to have a little fun!"
Pryor will have a pro day for all 32 NFL teams Saturday in Pittsburgh, where he'll work out, throw and take part in agility drills -- similar to what he would do at the NFL Scouting Combine. Once he's drafted, he'll be allowed at a team's facilities and be able to take part in meetings.
"He's putting all of this behind him, and he has learned a lot from the mistakes he has made in the past and is excited about starting fresh and getting his career going," Rosenhaus said. "As soon as he gets picked, he'll be on an airplane and be going right to work."
The other players eligible for the supplemental draft are defensive backs Torez Jones of Western Carolina and Tracy Wilson of Northern Illinois, defensive ends Keenan Mace of Lindenwood and Mike McAdoo of North Carolina and running back Caleb King of Georgia.
The supplemental draft allows qualified underclassmen who didn't request early entry into the regular draft to have a chance at entering the NFL. Teams submit picks and are awarded players if their bid -- for which round they would take that player -- is highest. Teams then lose the corresponding pick in next April's draft.
The supplemental draft was supposed to be held Wednesday, and Pryor's name wasn't on the NFL's initial list of players. But it was postponed a few days, and Pryor's name showed up Thursday.
If he hadn't been ruled eligible, Pryor would have had to wait until next April for the 2012 NFL Draft.
Regarded as the nation's top quarterback recruit coming out of high school, Pryor led Ohio State to an 8-1 record as a starter and was the Big Ten Conference's freshman of the year. He took the Buckeyes to the Big Ten title the following season and a victory in the Rose Bowl. He was named the game's MVP after Ohio State beat Oregon 26-17.
Pryor had his best season statistically as a junior, throwing for 2,772 yards and 27 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He also ran for 754 yards and four scores while helping the Buckeyes win the Sugar Bowl.
Shortly before the game, it was revealed that Pryor and other players traded Buckeyes memorabilia for cash and discounted tattoos. In the following months, it became clear that Tressel knew about the improper benefits in the spring of 2010 but didn't inform his bosses, as was required under his contract and NCAA rules. Tressel was forced out of his job May 30, and Pryor left Ohio State soon after.
Now, Pryor will have a chance to start his NFL career -- even if it doesn't happen until Week 6.
"I'm proud of him," said New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes, a former Ohio State star who was wearing a red Buckeyes cap Thursday. "I thought he did a great job while he was there. The things that he had to overcome thus far can be pushed behind and hopefully he can start a better career here in the NFL."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.