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Winter League Meeting preview: Hunt, Foster cases cast shadow

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DALLAS -- Until a few weeks ago, the NFL was having a dream season. Scoring was exploding, new stars were emerging, ratings were up. All of that is still true, and the league is coming off what might be the best weekend of the regular season. But the past two weeks have been dotted by familiar and unwelcome issues -- players accused of assault, and how teams and league investigators responded -- and those uncomfortable topics are likely to surface again at the Winter League Meeting on Wednesday.

The one-day meeting -- which is preceded by a Tuesday labor meeting for general managers -- will otherwise include routine business updates. League investigations are not on the agenda, so it is unclear if they will be discussed in any official capacity.

But reporters are certain to ask owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell about the Washington Redskins' decision to claim Reuben Foster on Nov. 27, days after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers following an arrest for a domestic violence allegation, and about the NFL's investigation into a February incident in which Kareem Hunt was caught on videotape kicking a woman during an argument. Hunt was released by the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 30, hours after the video became public, and he went unclaimed last week, making him a free agent. The NFL is looking into both cases, and Foster is on the Reserve/Commissioner Exempt List, meaning he cannot play for Washington until his case is decided. Hunt is also on the list, meaning if a team signs him, he, too, would have to wait until the NFL determines his fate.

In the meantime, it's clear that the Hunt investigation that began in February -- which was essentially stalled until the videotape was released -- has renewed the conversation about how the league conducts sensitive investigations and, for some, even whether the league should conduct investigations at all. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones argued last year -- when he was livid over the lengthy investigation of domestic violence allegations against running back Ezekiel Elliott and Elliott's subsequent six-game suspension -- that the league should not be in the business of conducting investigations. He recently said that he is "keeping a very close eye" on how the Hunt investigation will proceed. Still, for now, there might not be widespread support for making significant changes.

"I have mixed feelings about this -- seems like we get killed either way," said one owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "I do think we need to get a better understanding as to how we do these investigations. It rarely seems like we are able to get access to all of the information."

That has been at the root of the controversy around Hunt. TMZ published a video it obtained showing the February incident. Hunt was released hours later. The NFL later said it had tried to get the video -- and to talk to the women involved -- but was unable to do either. The lack of jurisdiction to compel cooperation has been a concern since the NFL decided to do its own investigations in the wake of the Ray Rice domestic violence case four years ago. That case exploded, too, when a video of the incident surfaced -- a video that the NFL had not been able to obtain or see. But the NFL decided it was better off doing investigations itself, rather than relying on the results of law enforcement investigations and the legal process which, particularly in domestic violence cases, has historically failed women.

Neither Hunt nor Foster is likely to be on the field again during the 2018 season, whether or not the NFL ponders changes to its investigations. But they might have forced the league to again have a conversation it had hoped was behind it.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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