Sunday, July 31, 2011


When I was covering the Patriots in 2005, Ted Johnson, the hard-nosed
linebacker once told me, "NFL teams are talent whores. If Charles Manson
could run a 4.3 40, somebody would sign him and figure out a way of
bring him in here."  Johnson was exaggerating, of course, but his point
was crystalclear: If you have great talent, teams will look past the
character issues.

This was driven home this past week when the Patriots traded for
Albert Haynesworth, a man blessed with freak-like size and strength.
As for character? Well, let's just say there was a good chance God
was updating his Facebook status when it came time to hand it
to Haynesworth.

At one time, the Patriots wouldn't draft, trade for, or sign a player who
so much as threatened to talk back to his mother during any time in
his life. Robert Kraft prided himself on bringing in players of good moral
fiber. Besides winning championships, the "Patriots Way" wreaked of
a holier than thou, we can can win with class attitude. But now, with
a need to improve a non-existent pass rush, the Patriots trade for
Haynesworth. It was a low-risk, high reward trade. If Haynesworth
so much as looks the wrong way at Bill Belichick, he will be released,
no questions asked.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has tried hard to rid the league
of players like Haynesworth, who has a track record as bad as Lindsay
Lohan and Randy Moss combined. But you see, Haynesworth has the kind
of talent NFL coaches sell their souls for and drool over. Every coach
thinks he's a Dr. Phil when it comes to rehabbing a player and his bad
image. Just as long as that guy records 15 sacks, 10 interceptions, or
can bust a punt return 89-yard to decide the game, he can have a spot
on the team. As for those personal re-hab sessions? Oh, yeah, can I
get back to you on that, I have to watch some more film.

Isn't that happened with Pac-Man Jones? The guy has enormous talent,
but a ten-cent head. He's been arrested six times. Yet, he still finds work
because he's a game-changer. After the Dallas Cowboys signed him they
even provided Pac-Man his own bodyguard to keep him out of trouble.
What happened? Pac-Man got into a fight with the bodyguard.
Good bye, Dallas. Oh, but Cincinnati had to upgrade their speed and depth
in the secondary, so they open their checkbooks and sign Pac-Man.
Incidentally, he got arrested again last month.

Dante Stallworth gets drunk, kills a man with his car, goes to jail
for 24 days, then is free to play football again. Except that Goodell
did the right thing and banned him for a year. After that was up,
Stallworth said hello, Baltimore, signing a multi-million dollar contract
with the Ravens because he can separate from defensive backs and
catch the ball in traffic.

If you, me, or Johnnie Bravo got arrested or killed someone, we'd never
get another job. That's how it works with companies today. Character
counts. But in the NFL, if  you can score touchdowns, record sacks,
or bust a wedge, employers will smile, slap you on the back, and look
past those four arrests on your record.

Goodell can try as hard as he has to clean up the image of the league, but
seriously, it matters little. Coaches are under enormous pressure to win.
Winning means bigger contracts, increased merchandise sales, better
ratings, and  more expensive luxury boxes. Some coaches like Belichick
and Rex Ryan will roll the dice with some players, thinking they'll suddenly
get "character" playing under them and in their system.

Isn't that what Dick Vermeil thought when he convinced the Rams to draft
Lawrence Phillips in the first round several years ago. All Phillips did was
drag his girlfriend down a flight of stairs and beat her up. But he had freakish
talent, a player the Rams thought could rush for 1,500 yards every year.
How'd that turn out? An embarrassment.

Character only counts with players who have borderline talent. It's an
easy way to weed them out, cut them, or neglect to return their phone
calls when looking for a job.

The NFL is what it is. It's a league where only the biggest, strongest,
and fastest survive. Usually the teams with the most talent are in the mix
when it comes to championships. Character? Please. The NFL is not
fooling anyone.

As for the Jets, they lost out on Charles Manson, but they did sign
former convict Plaxico Burress and just came to a deal with Antonio
Cromartie, who has eight kids by six different woman. He can't cover
things up when it really matters, but boy, Cromartie can sure blanket
those receivers.

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