ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — In the face of a major public backlash and internal questions over the decision to award Matt Araiza the punting job, the Buffalo Bills reversed course by cutting the rookie on Saturday, two days after a lawsuit was filed alleging the player and two college teammates gang-raped a teenager last fall.
"The last 48 hours have been very difficult for a lot of people. It’s been tough. And you know, we sympathize with this whole situation, all the parties involved, this young woman, what she went through," general manager Brandon Beane said during a 26-minute news conference alongside coach Sean McDermott.
"But at this time, we just think it’s the best move for everyone to move on from Matt and let him take care of this situation and focus on that. So, we’re gonna part ways there," Beane added.
Beane said the Bills were not aware of the allegations made against Araiza at the time they drafted him. And had they known, Beane said, they would have removed him from consideration.
The decision to cut ties with their sixth-round draft pick out of San Diego State comes after Buffalo cleared the way for Araiza to take over the punting duties by releasing returning veteran Matt Haack on Monday.
The Bills opted then to keep Araiza even while being aware of the allegations made against him since late July. The team then stood by the player by announcing it “conducted a thorough examination” into the matter a day after the lawsuit was filed.
Beane said the team did as much as it could in getting as many details as possible, while noting many of the allegations were unavailable because the results of the San Diego police investigation has not been released. He said the team decided not to “rush to judgment” based on the information it had, while noting Araiza never changed his version of what happened.
“You want to give everyone as much due process as you can. Again, we’re not a judge and a jury,” Beane said.
McDermott then interjected by saying the team did consider the victim's version of events as contained in the lawsuit.
“We did take those very seriously. I want everyone to understand that. That’s a serious deal right there,” McDermott said.
Araiza’s release begins to ease a crisis which has shaken the team as reflected by McDermott having difficulty containing his emotions while discussing the situation following a 21-0 preseason loss at Carolina on Friday night.
McDermott made the call to hold out Araiza from playing against Carolina. The player watched the game from an undisclosed location while also issuing a statement through his agent, Joe Linta, which read: “The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press. I look forward to quickly setting the record straight.”
Without another punter on the roster, third-string quarterback Matt Barkley handled the punting duties.
In a text to The Associated Press, Araiza's lawyer, Kerry Armstrong, defended his client by writing: “I am sure he is very upset and disappointed that his career with the Bills ended not because he played poorly, but because of false allegations leveled against him by a young lady and her attorney. I hope he is back in the NFL soon."
A lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court accused Araiza and two teammates of raping a then-17-year-old girl at a Halloween party at an off-campus home where Araiza had been living. A San Diego police investigation has been turned over to the district attorney’s office to determine whether to pursue charges. DA spokeswoman Tanya Sierra said Friday there was no timeline as to how long a decision will take.
In Buffalo, the focus shifts to why the Bills weren’t aware of the allegations against Araiza when selecting the San Diego State player in the sixth round of the draft in April. Though he was college football’s top punter last year, and earned the nickname “Punt God” because of a booming left leg, Araiza was the third punter selected in the draft.
It’s unclear whether Araiza informed the NFL about the allegations in the months leading up to the draft.
Executives from two different teams told The Associated Press they became aware of Araiza’s involvement in an incident during the draft process, but neither person knew the extent of the allegations. Executives from three other teams said they had no knowledge of the allegations against Araiza before the draft and only learned of the incident Thursday. All the people spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Though it’s unclear when the Bills first became aware of the allegations, they knew by the end of July when Dan Gilleon, the lawyer representing the alleged victim identified in the lawsuit as “Jane Doe,” contacted the team’s legal counsel, Kathryn D’Angelo, by email.
“She seemed like she was concerned. She says she’ll get back to me, and then she never did,” Gilleon said. “I even followed up and said, `Hey, you guys haven’t talked to me and called me back like you said you would.′ And they just ignored that, too.”
Armstrong said he also informed his client to be upfront and inform the Bills about the allegations. Armstrong said he also kept in regular contact with the Bills over the past month to provide details of his own investigation into what happened.
“I 100% do not believe that he ever forcibly raped this girl or had sex with her while she was passed out or drunk or anything like that,” Armstrong said.
The Bills also conducted what they called a “thorough examination,” which eventually led to their decision to cut Haack.
The Bills also informed the NFL of the incident once they were made aware of it, a person familiar with the situation told The AP. The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, wasn’t certain of the timeline.
The NFL declined to comment except to say it was aware of the matter.