On Thursday, the Broncos made a bold move in the first round of the NFL Draft, trading three picks and offensive lineman Manny Ramirez, to move up five spots and select Missouri pass rusher Shane Ray with their newly acquired 23rd pick.
The thought of Ray—who had 14 sacks and 22.5 tackles-for-loss last season—Von Miller, and DeMarcus Ware swarming around offensive backfields in 2015 should scare the bejesus out of opposing QBs and make Broncos’ fans and coaches salivate. Ray has long been considered a top-10 talent in this class, but a nagging toe injury this spring hampered his workouts and damaged his draft stock.
That stock took another, uh, hit this week when Missouri police cited Ray for marijuana possession after a traffic stop. Given that weed is still illegal in Missouri and banned by the NFL, having the incident unfold three days before the biggest day (and payday) of Ray’s young life calls into question his intelligence and common sense.
It also puts him in the first phase of the league’s substance abuse program, which exposes him to increased drug testing, and it stamps him, for now, with the stigma of a guy who has off-field “character issues.”
But should it? Ray’s scouting reports don’t mention any other personal red flags from his college years, so if marijuana possession is the worst offense he’s ever committed, in Colorado that simply doesn’t qualify as a character concern. (Naturally, Ray landing here prompted a predictable stream of Twitter jokes and puns.)
Not only that, there’s an increasing push toward exempting medically prescribed marijuana from the NFL banned substances list. There are few subsets of the population that could benefit more from weed’s pain-relieving and muscle-relaxing properties than pro football players. It’s not a performance-enhancing drug, and it’s far less harmful than the pills and anti-inflammatory injections these players must consume in unimaginable quantities in order to stay on the field.
Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has expressed some openness to reconsidering the marijuana ban if the medical evidence continues to support it, a fairly remarkable admission for the notoriously stodgy league. Of course, de-criminalizing weed for pro football players would have to be accompanied by a widespread PR campaign that heavily stresses the drug’s undeniable harmfulness to minors. But if the NFL can become as enlightened about marijuana as a growing segment of American society is, it might help these players’ long-term health—and give the Broncos an incredible steal.
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.