GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: Troubled players slip, but not too far Print
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Tuesday, 24 April 2007 06:57
NFL Headline News

 The Cincinnati Bengals could use a cornerback, although after being subject to nationwide ridicule for having nine players arrested last season they almost surely will pass on UNLV's Eric Wright. For public relations reasons, if nothing else.
That doesn't necessarily apply to the other 31 NFL teams.
So Wright and Miami safety Brandon Meriweather, both of whom have had trouble in their backgrounds, could be first-round picks in Saturday's NFL draft - even though commissioner Roger Goodell's suspensions of Adam ``Pacman'' Jones for a year and Chris Henry for eight games have highlighted how strongly the new boss feels about off-field transgressions.
Does that mean teams are still willing to sacrifice character issues for ability? Or are there some who are more diligent in their research and have decided some players can overcome one blip and become exemplary citizens.
But it's not easy for decision makers in today's supercharged atmosphere, where the tendency is to consider someone guilty until proved innocent.
``A lot of us have done things in our past,'' says Jerry Reese, who for 11 years worked in the New York Giants' personnel department before becoming the team's general manager after last season.
``These are young kids. They're impressionable kids. So you can't absolutely kill a guy because he went out and had a beer after a party and got into a scuffle or something. A lot of these kids get parking tickets. Some of them get speeding tickets. But we get all that information. If a guy's got a blotter, if he's got a long list of character flaws, you have to take that stuff into consideration.''
The question is how you weigh the information.
Take Juwan Simpson, an Alabama linebacker who is considered at best a fifth or sixth-round pick.
Do you judge him on the fact that he was a Southeastern Conference all-academic selection, has graduated and is working on a second degree? And that he received the team's public service award and was nominated for a national award based on a combination of academics, athletics, public service and character?
Or do you judge him on the fact that less than a year ago, he was charged with receiving stolen property, possession of marijuana and carrying a pistol without a license? The stolen property charge was dismissed; he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of gun possession; and resolved the marijuana charge by agreeing to enter a drug treatment program.
But Simpson is not a player on whom a team will have to invest a high draft choice or pay a lot of money.
Meriweather and Wright are more problematic because their ability makes them so tempting.
The major blemish on Meriweather's record is his one-game suspension last year for stomping on the head of Florida International players during a brawl between the teams. He was also involved in a shooting episode when he fired a licensed handgun to defend a friend and teammate who'd been shot.
Wright left Southern California in 2005, a year after being charged with rape. Authorities also found drugs in the apartment he shared with a roommate. The charges were dropped when the woman failed to testify, but Wright transferred to UNLV.
Wright is described by scouts as a smooth talker and those who have interviewed Meriweather find him gentle and soft-spoken, the kind of leader most want on their team. Neither has been convicted of anything - something that's often overlooked by Web sites that keep scorecards on arrests - arrests, not convictions.
So while they may slide a little lower on draft day, they still could go in the first round because of their talent. Indeed, Wright might be the best cover cornerback in the draft.
Others won't be so fortunate, notably defensive tackle Marcus Thomas of Florida.
Thomas was first suspended from the Florida team by coach Urban Meyer after failing two marijuana tests, then kicked off permanently after leaving Gainesville to go to Orlando with friends.
He will be drafted, perhaps in the third or fourth round. But he might be the best defensive tackle in the draft and almost surely would have been a first-round pick, which means that his transgressions will cost him millions, the difference between being a first-rounder and being drafted later.
Meanwhile, he's doing his mea culpas. He and his advisers are putting out the usual litany of ``I've learned my lesson,'' combined with ``I ran with the wrong crowd.''
But teams are more inclined to look at the fact that the respected Meyer got rid of him even though he was a major player on a national championship contender that managed to win the title without him. And the fact that Thomas was suspended once and then disobeyed his coach makes NFL teams wonder about his intelligence.
But someone will take a chance on him, perhaps sooner than later.
Between the lines, those who want him can find praise, such as Meyer calling Thomas ``a good chemistry guy'' when he first suspended him. And defensive coordinator Charlie Strong talking about his talent and the good relationship he had with his teammates.
A decade from now, perhaps after a half-dozen Pro Bowl appearances, an NFL coach or coaches might be saying the same things about him. Or they may be regretting they ever signed him after a half-dozen disciplinary actions.
It's just not easy to judge. Nor will it be no matter how many suspensions Goodell hands down.
A quarter-century ago, before there was a collectively bargained drug program, a star player was called into commissioner Pete Rozelle's office after a drug arrest. Rozelle, who was ready to suspend the player, was charmed instead and believed the man's claims that he would never get in trouble again.
So he let him off with a warning and a few weeks later, the guy was arrested again.
That's the problem teams face every year.
It won't change.
 

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