The Buffalo Bills cut Matt Araiza on Saturday, two days after the rookie punter was accused in a lawsuit of raping a 17-year-old girl last October with two of his teammates at San Diego State.
“We don’t know all the facts, and that’s what makes it hard, but at this time we think it is the best move for everyone to move on from Matt,” Brandon Beane, the team’s general manager, said in a news conference.
Beane said that the team learned about the accusations in late July. “We tried to be thorough and thoughtful and not rush to judgment,” he said. “It’s not easy.”
“We just decided that the most important thing is this is not about football, it’s about letting Matt go handle this,” Beane added.
Araiza traveled with the team on Friday to Charlotte for the team’s last preseason game but was not in uniform. He was not at the team’s practice on Saturday.
Araiza denied the accusations in a statement released through his agent on Friday night. “The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press,” he said, adding that he looked forward to “quickly setting the record straight.”
In the lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court on Thursday, the teen said that she was “observably intoxicated” at a house party last October in San Diego and that Araiza, who was 21 at the time, knew that she was in high school. She said that Araiza led her to a side yard, where he raped her orally and vaginally. According to the civil complaint, Araiza then took her to a bedroom inside the house, where a group of men, including the two other named defendants in her lawsuit, “took turns having sex with her” while she went in and out of consciousness.
The San Diego police began an investigation last year, and a public affairs officer for the San Diego County district attorney’s office confirmed on Friday that it was reviewing the police investigation to consider criminal charges.
Araiza’s name was not publicly connected to the case until Thursday, when the teen named him as a defendant in her lawsuit. Her lawyer, Dan Gilleon, had notified the Bills weeks earlier, however. He sent an email to the team’s assistant general counsel, Kathryn D’Angelo, on July 31, according to a screenshot reviewed by The New York Times, and said he spoke to her over the phone on Aug. 1. But Gilleon’s law firm said the Bills did not contact him again and did not ask to speak to Araiza’s accuser, despite the team’s public statement that it had conducted a “thorough examination.”
The teen kept a diary that included her memories of the event, which Gilleon shared on social media. According to her lawsuit, during a tape-recorded call set up by San Diego police, Araiza confirmed having had sex with her and told her she should get tested for sexually transmitted diseases, before changing his tone when she asked more pointed questions.
The Bills selected Araiza, who was known as the “Punt God” at San Diego State, in the sixth round of this year’s draft. He appeared in the Bills’ first preseason game and flew with the team to Charlotte for their third game on Friday. He did not dress for the game and Matt Barkley, a backup quarterback, handled the punting.
Araiza’s release, just months after he signed a four-year contract worth nearly $4 million, comes as the N.F.L. faces renewed scrutiny of the treatment of women by players and other league personnel. The league has struggled for years to find ways to investigate problems that involve domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Last week, the N.F.L. reached a settlement with Deshaun Watson, the star quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, who was accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct. Watson was suspended for 11 games and fined $5 million.
The N.F.L.’s personal conduct policy does not cover incidents that occurred before players, coaches and other personnel joined the league, so it is unlikely Araiza could have been suspended by the league.