The NFL has suspended Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger for the first six games of the 2010 season for violating its personal-conduct policy, the league announced Wednesday.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will require Roethlisberger to undergo "comprehensive behavioral evaluation" by medical professionals, the league said. According to the NFL, Goodell will assess Roethlisberger's progress before the season and could elect to reduce the player's suspension to four games. However, Goodell also has the right to extend Roethlisberger's suspension if he does not cooperate, the league said.
According to the NFL, Roethlisberger cannot participate in offseason team activities until he has completed the behavioral evaluation and Goodell, after consulting with the medical professionals, clears him to return to the team, which could include participating in training camp and preseason games.
"Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare," Goodell wrote in a letter to Roethlisberger that detailed the NFL's decision on discipline.
Roethlisberger, 28, was investigated by Georgia authorities in connection with an alleged sexual assault at a Milledgeville, Ga., nightclub in March, but he was not criminally charged. However, Roethlisberger has received a torrent of criticism in the aftermath of the incident.
In his letter to Roethlisberger, excerpts of which the NFL made public on its Web site, Goodell explained the basis for his decision:
"The Personal Conduct Policy makes clear that I may impose discipline 'even where the conduct does not result in conviction of a crime' as, for example, where the conduct 'imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person'," commissioner Goodell stated in his letter to Roethlisberger. "As (Ocmulgee [Ga.] Judicial Circuit district attorney Fred Bright) concluded, the extensive investigatory record shows that you contributed to the irresponsible consumption of alcohol by purchasing (or facilitating the purchase of) alcoholic beverages for underage college students, at least some of whom were likely already intoxicated.
"There is no question that the excessive consumption of alcohol that evening put the students and yourself at risk. The Personal Conduct Policy also states that discipline is appropriate for conduct that 'undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.' By any measure, your conduct satisfies that standard."
The Steelers, clearly in preparation for the potential of a Roethlisberger suspension, acquired QB Byron Leftwich from the Buccaneers for a 2010 seventh-round pick on Tuesday. Leftwich played with Pittsburgh in 2008. Leftwich and Dennis Dixon are the top candidates to replace Roethlisberger in the lineup, with Charlie Batch another option.
The Steelers' first six games are vs. Atlanta (Sept. 12), at Tennessee (Sept. 19), at Tampa Bay (Sept. 26), vs. Baltimore (Oct. 3), vs. Cleveland (Oct. 17) and at Miami (Oct. 24). The Steelers' bye is in Week Five, the second weekend in October.
For the most authoritative NFL draft news and free-agency analysis, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.