Four Detroit Lions players, including second-year wide receiver Jameson Williams, have been suspended by the NFL for violation of the league’s gambling policy.
Wide receiver Quintez Cephus and C.J. Moore have been suspended indefinitely and subsequently released by the team. Williams and wide receiver Stanley Berryhill each have been banned the first six games of the 2023 regular season.
“As a result of an NFL investigation, it came to our attention that a few of our players had violated the league’s gambling policy,” Lions general manager Brad Holmes said in a statement. “These players exhibited decision making that is not consistent with our organizational values and violates league rules. We have made the decision to part ways with Quintez and C.J. immediately. We are disappointed by the decision making demonstrated by Stanley and Jameson and will work with both players to ensure they understand the severity of these violations and have clarity on the league rules moving forward.”
The differentiation between the two levels of punishment is Cephus and Moore bet on NFL action, which is strictly prohibited. It is unclear whether either bet on Lions games. Shaka Toney, of the Washington Commanders, was also suspended indefinitely, through at least the 2023 season. A league review showed no evidence indicating any inside information was used or that any game was compromised in any way.
Meanwhile, Williams and Berryhill placed online wagers on non-NFL games or events while on official team grounds, which includes practice facilities, stadiums, team planes and team hotels while traveling. Wagering on other sports, or playing online casino games such as slots or blackjack, is otherwise permitted by the league.
The news is particularly devastating for Williams, who missed most of his rookie season while rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered in the College Football Playoff championship game with Alabama. On Thursday, Holmes noted the intent of the Williams selection was to have him ready to play a larger role the following season.
“Jameson Williams, obviously he was coming off his injury, I didn’t really care if he played last year,” Holmes said. “If he did, he did. I’m glad he did, but I was looking for this year. You’ve just got to take the best player, the best player that fits us, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Williams, who was recently in the building for the team’s first set of organized team activities, will be allowed to fully participate in the remainder of the offseason program, including the three preseason games. His suspension will begin at the start of the regular season, when he’ll be barred from the team’s practice facility for three weeks, half of length his suspension. He’ll then be allowed to rejoin the team for conditioning, strength training and meetings, but will continue be prohibited from practicing unless the league grants an exemption.
Upon the expiration of Williams and Berryhill’s suspensions, they would be immediately eligible to play in the team’s seventh regular-season game. Despite the disappointment with the actions that led to the suspension, a team source indicated the suspension isn’t expected to impact Williams’ long-term role with the team.
Williams’ representation, Alliance Sports, released a statement following the announcement of his suspension.
“Jameson takes full responsibility for his actions and is very apologetic to the NFL, his teammates and the fans and city of Detroit,” the statement read. “However, it is important to note that Jameson’s violation was not for betting on football, but rather due to a technical rule regarding the actual location in which the online bet was placed — and which would otherwise be allowed by the NFL outside of the club’s facility. Jameson would never intentionally jeopardize the integrity of the game he loves so much and looks forward to getting back to his team as soon as possible.”
A big-play machine with rare speed, Williams logged just 78 offensive snaps as a rookie. His lone catch was a 41-yard touchdown in a 34-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 14. He also had a 40-yard carry in Week 16 against the Chicago Bears, further highlighting his playmaking potential a year after he racked up 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns for Alabama in 2021.
“He’ll continue to develop, and can’t wait to get on the field with him,” quarterback Jared Goff said this week. “I can’t wait to get on the field with him and get to work with him and really dive into some stuff; get to work on plays, get to work on routes, without the consequence of in-game implications. Being able to work on things freely will be fun. He’s a tremendous talent. He could do so many amazing things for our offense, and excited to see where it goes.”
As for Detroit’s other suspended players, Cephus and Berryhill were considered fringe contenders for roster spots. A fourth-round draft pick in 2020, Cephus missed much of the past two seasons with injury and had slid to the bottom of the depth chart last season, seeing just three targets in the four games he was active. Berryhill also appeared in four games last season, primarily playing special teams.
The departure of Moore will sting, particularly on special teams, where he’s been one of Detroit’s top performers the four years since joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss. He recently had been re-signed to a two-year, $4.5 million contract this offseason.
In addition to the four Lions players, a league source confirmed several staffers from various departments within the organization were terminated earlier this offseason. The NFL gambling policy is stricter for non-players, prohibiting wagers on any sporting events.
The punishments for the five players, including Toney, follow last year’s indefinite suspension of former Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley for betting on NFL games. He’s since been traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars and reinstated by the league.
“I have always owned my mistakes and this is no different,” Ridley said in a statement following his reinstatement. “I have great respect for the game and am excited for the opportunity to restart my career in Jacksonville. I look forward to showing my new coaches, teammates, and the entire Jaguars organization exactly who I am and what I represent as a player and person.”
Prior to Ridley, there have only been a handful of cases of gambling-related suspension in the NFL, including Lions Hall of Famer Alex Karras, who missed the 1963 season along with Packers legend Paul Hornung. In recent years, the league has been forced to walk a tightrope on the topic as several states have legalized online gaming and sports betting, including Michigan in 2021.
Further clouding the conversation, the league formally partnered with several gambling affiliates last year. Those deals with Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings and FanDuel were reportedly worth $1 billion for the league over five years.
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