Technically, Bills punter Matt Araiza won the job only recently. As a practical matter, he secured the position when the team devoted the first pick in round six (180th overall) on securing his rights.
Given the recent filing of a civil complaint against Araiza and two others alleging gang rape of a 17-year-old girl, the question becomes whether the Bills knew about the allegation at the time they drafted Araiza.
The Bills haven’t expressly disclosed whether they knew about the claim before putting Araiza’s name on a draft card. Their statement regarding the lawsuit avoids the broader question of when they first learned of the situation, by focusing only on their awareness of the lawsuit. The allegation itself emerged well before the filing of the lawsuit; the criminal investigation definitely began before Araiza was drafted.
“We were recently made aware of a civil complaint involving Matt from October 2021,” the Bills said in a statement released Thursday night. “Due to the serious nature of the complaint, we conducted a thorough examination of this matter. As this is an ongoing civil case legal, we will have no other comment at this point.”
They were recently made aware of the civil complaint because it was filed only recently. The assertion that they “conducted a thorough examination of this matter” isn’t tied to a specific time frame. It possibly refers to a period of time before the case was filed. Or, perhaps, before Araiza was drafted.
Tim Graham of TheAthletic.com reports that the Bills were made aware of the allegations last month. Which means that they didn’t know about the situation when drafting him, but that they found out before cutting Matt Haack, the other competitor for the punting job.
Why haven’t the Bills publicly said they didn’t know, in lieu of leaking that information on an off-the-record basis? Maybe the truth is that they knew. Or, at a minimum, that they should have known.
Araiza’s defense lawyer, Kerry Armstrong, initially said in a recent TV interview that “you better believe“that Araiza informed the NFL of the situation before the draft. But then Armstrong backed off, when asked specifically whether the Bills knew before drafting Araiza.
“When we say ‘all the information,’ I don’t know what information the Bills had at the time, when they actually selected him in the draft,” Armstrong said. “I do know that I’ve kept them up to date recently about some of the case, and so I think they have at least a decent understanding of what the allegations are.”
At this point, the remaining questions become straightforward. One, what did the Bills know before they drafted Araiza? Two, if they’d known then what they know how, would they have drafted him? Three, given what they now know, what will they do?
Although Araiza is entitled to the various Constitutional protections in the criminal process, the Bills can move on, if they want. While it could spark a grievance that would force them to potentially pay his salary, that’s still better than employing someone who is accused of a heinous crime, and who may in fact be guilty.
That’s why the Bills need to fully investigate and, if they think based on their investigation that the allegations are credible and more likely than not accurate, they should cut him.
The league should want them to cut him, if the Bills (or the league) think that the allegations are credible and more likely than not accurate. If this had happened after Araiza had been drafted, he’d likely be headed for paid leave while the criminal process continues — instead of 13 days from making his official debut on NBC in the first regular-season game of the year. Given that he transpired six months before he entered the NFL, the only way to keep him off the field is to remove him from the team.
The Bills shouldn’t do that lightly. But, surely, the league and the Bills have the resources available to make an assessment as to whether they think it’s more likely than not that he did it. If they do, there’s only one thing left to do.