The League

Mark Maske
Staff Writer

Mark Maske

Writes the NFL News Feed blog

It's Not Really A Choice

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To me, there's no choice to be made on this issue. The risks that teams take on talented players with character issues, more often than not, don't pan out.

Adam Jones clearly is a talented player. But did drafting him and signing him to a big contract work out for the Tennessee Titans? Absolutely not. He's long gone and now the Titans are thriving without him. Where has giving repeated chances to Chris Henry and other players gotten the Cincinnati Bengals? They're winless.

Certainly, there an instances in which teams took chances on players with question marks about off-field conduct and were rewarded. The New York Giants drafted Ahmad Bradshaw when other teams wouldn't, and he contributed to last season's Super Bowl title. But over the long term, most of those risks eventually backfire. Former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi used to say that the best predictor of future behavior by a player is past behavior.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear that he's serious about punishing players for repeated off-field violations. Jones was suspended all of last season and was not reinstated for this season until just before it began. Henry missed half of last season and the first four games of this season. Taking on a player with serious legal problems means taking on a player who might not be available for long stretches of the season.

I'm not saying that all good teams are filled with all wonderful human beings. And I'm not saying that people don't deserve second chances in football and in life. But when it comes to third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances, the NFL teams that avoid giving those generally seem to be more successful. To me, it's not about choosing between winning on the one hand and having a roster full of players without major character issues on the other. Recent history in the NFL seems to tell us that avoiding players with significant issues and repeated incidents increases the chances of winning.

This season's Cowboys could be the exception. They signed troubled defensive tackle Tank Johnson after he was released by the Bears, and they traded for Jones. Time will tell if it all will work out. The off-field misdeeds of the Cowboys' old Super Bowl-winning teams have been back in the news lately, but that was a different time with a different NFL commissioner and a different approach by the league.

A gifted player always will get another chance. Jones has a job in the NFL. Henry has a job. I don't agree with those who say that Michael Vick never will play in the NFL again. If he still can play when he gets out of federal prison, my guess is that some team, somewhere, will give him an opportunity sometime. But teams that take such risks time after time usually aren't rewarded over the long haul.

By Mark Maske  |  October 2, 2008; 10:06 AM ET  | Category:  NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I subscribe to "the knucklehead theory" put forward by a sportswriter, maybe David Aldridge. It says that each team can absorb only a finite number of knuckleheads before their behavior affects the whole team. If you have fewer, the good citizens control the knuckleheads. If you have too many, the knuckleheads rule.

Coaches and GMs have to know how many additional knuckleheads their team can add before they cause problems throughout the team. The Patriots did this successfully when signing Corey Dillon and Randy Moss. It seems the Bengals still haven't figured this out.

Posted by: Tamon | October 2, 2008 3:35 PM

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