The NFL usually isn’t a league fond of mixed messages. Did you harm dogs in an elaborate dogfighting operation? You can still play, but we’ll suspend you indefinitely until the dust settles on your legal mess. Were you accused of sexually harassing a young woman in a sleazy college bar? You can still play too, but you’re suspended for six games, and we’ll consider bumping it down to four if you behave.

This is a governing body that pursues direct decisions, and one that’s led by a dictator who rarely displays indecisiveness while handing out discipline. The blue moon rose today though, and Terrelle Pryor was in its light.

The good news came first when the NFL declared Pryor–the former Buckeye standout for both his play, and his free tattoos–eligible for Monday’s supplemental draft. The bad news followed shortly after when Roger Goodell decided to suspend Pryor for the first five games of the 2011 NFL season once a team deems him worthy of employment.

The games and practice time Pryor will miss are irrelevant. He’ll be a third-string quarterback at best, and there’s even a strong possibility that he becomes the latest wildcat experiment and is molded into the next Brad Smith. However, the principle and precedent of this punishment matter far more than the price.

In a memo received by all teams, the NFL outlined the primary reason for Pryor’s suspension, which stemmed from actions that undermined the integrity of the NFL draft. Pryor hired an agent (gasp! Drew Rosenhaus), which immediately made him ineligible to play this fall at Ohio State, and therefore also ineligible to serve a five-game NCAA suspension for his involvement in the debacle that led to Jim Tressel’s resignation.

This is all true, but it’s also a public relations crutch. The supplemental draft is by definition a cheater’s draft, or at the very least a draft which allows those who failed at the other aspects of college life but are still good at football to gain meaningful employment. It’s a vague, murky area which provides an avenue for players whose college situations changed after the draft to play football, and get paid for doing so.

Poor grades can often prompt a supplemental draft entry, but even more often it’s a change in the football landscape at the players’ school. Pryor’s landscape wasn’t just remolded, it crumbled after a massive earthquake.

Goodell clearly knew this, and was aware of Pryor’s involvement in Ohio State’s unhinged football program. He knew that Pryor is perceived by some in college football circles as a young man who’s seeking more than just employment. He’s seeking refuge, and a ticket out.

Goodell’s contradiction–and his dangerous precedent–lies in his decision to grant Pryor that refuge while also making nice with the almighty farm system that powers the NFL. An even greater contradiction can be found in the lack of punishment for another refuge seeker, a certain Seattle coach who was at the center of the fall of Troy in Southern California.

Pryor hired an agent because after his situation drastically changed, he had no intention of returning to Ohio State and being the weekly face of a mess that led to the departure of a beloved coach. He took this action to pursue a selection in a draft made for players’ who have gone through unique change.

The NFL claims that Pryor’s move to hire an agent was the catalyst for his suspension, and maybe league spokesman Greg Aiello is speaking the truth, or maybe he’s just saving public face. Spokesmen are paid to do that.

If this is an NCAA olive branch, it’s one that could become prickly in the near future. If a player is punished for pursuing a draft designed for his unique situation, then maybe the supplemental draft is useless and obsolete.

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