The Jets made a change at punter this offseason, signing veteran Thomas Morstead and waiving Braden Mann. Despite this addition, the team will also be the first known connection to Matt Araiza since the Bills cut him last summer.
Araiza is set to work out for the Jets on Wednesday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter). The Bills waived Araiza, a 2022 sixth-round pick, following an allegation he was involved in a gang rape of a minor. Since that allegation became public in August 2022, Araiza has been cleared of criminal charges. A San Diego State investigation also did not produce any findings Araiza was involved in the alleged rape, according to Alaina Getzenberg of ESPN.com.
A civil lawsuit against Araiza is ongoing, with a civil trial set for October. The Jets will still look into a player who broke an NCAA record in 2021 after averaging 51.19 yards per punt. The Bills chose Araiza 180th overall last year, and he punted for the team during the preseason. Once the accusation surfaced, however, Buffalo sidelined Araiza for its final preseason game and soon waived him. Araiza, 23, spent last season out of football.
The civil suit alleges Araiza had sex with the accuser at an off-campus party and brought her into a bedroom where “a group” of men raped her. The woman, who was 17 at the time of the October 2021 party, said she told friends immediately after she had been raped; she reported it to the San Diego Police Department the next day. During a 10-month criminal investigation into Araiza and two other members of the San Diego State football team, however, a witness said Araiza was no longer at the party at the time the alleged rape took place. The accuser’s attorney disputes that witness’ reliability, according to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports.
Araiza has said any sexual contact between he and the accuser was consensual. The punter’s agent later sent 20 teams a recording of a December 2022 meeting between a San Diego County prosecutor, the accuser and her attorney, Brent Schrotenboer and Josh Peter of USA Today report. The recording includes a series of video clips showing the teen’s sexual encounters at the party; none show Araiza, who declined an offer to settle the case for $50K.
Although the woman was 17 at the time of the alleged rape, Araiza has said he believed she was 18. The audio interview includes the prosecutor telling the accuser, “I have to be able to prove that [the suspects] knew your age.” The accuser maintains she was intoxicated “to the point of not being able to consent to sex” and indicated the above-referenced video clips do not paint a full picture of that 2021 night’s events, Peter and Schrotenboer report.
Even as the criminal investigation produced no charges for Araiza, the fallout still threatens to keep him out of the NFL. But the Jets will still take a look during OTAs. The Jets gave Morstead, 37, a one-year deal worth $1.3MM in March. They guaranteed the veteran specialist $1.1MM.