The player conduct policy getting some exercise these past few weeks, with the domestic violence cases dominating the news. The cases of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Jonathan Dwyer, and Greg Hardy all resulted in the players making headlines and missing games.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell attempted to address this in his press conference on Friday, but was undermined when the report by Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg of ESPN was published.
Still, the best way for teams to avoid the embarrassment that the Ravens, Vikings, Cardinals, and Panthers are now deservingly subject to is to do a better job in selecting and guiding players in the organization, writes Albert Breer of NFL.com. Of course, if it was easy to pick out the future criminals and troublemakers, teams would be doing so already.
“I don’t think you’ll find an NFL team that has not put an emphasis on character, and gathering the background to understand the full picture of a player,” one AFC personnel executive told Breer. “You may have risk guys. You’re gonna measure risk to a degree. But you’re also gonna have values and principles that, in some cases, will be unwavering. … I just don’t think there’s a blanket response (in how this will change things).”
Breer writes that we will not see whether this peak in incidents will influence how teams will change their approach until the calendar draws closer to the draft and free agency. It isn’t simply a question of when teams will start becoming more cautious, but if their decisions will be effected altogether.
“I’ll be honest, it will not change anything we do,” a veteran general manager said. “I hate to say it, but it’s not like we’re saying, ‘OK, from now on, we can’t have domestic violence.’ I think the players come into the league, they’re younger, and we have to develop them from boys to men. And so we spend a lot of energy here doing that.”
The process of bringing players into the organization will be equally important as the guidance they are able to provide for those players. With young men anywhere, the NFL included, a system of developing them into mature members of society needs to continue after college.
Even still, no matter how hard the teams try to bring in high character players, it is impossible to be perfect while building a team.
“You really don’t know,” an NFC executive said. “You really, really don’t know. You gotta do your homework, but there’s no telling exactly what you’re getting.”
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is not playing this Saturday because of an off the field transgression that resulted in his suspension for the game against Clemson. Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report uses the Winston case as an example of the the effect the last two weeks in the NFL will have on player evaluations.
Winston won the Heisman Trophy last year for the national champion winning Seminoles, and as the reigning best player in college football, Winston and Florida State entered this weekend as the top ranked team in the country. Despite that, the most recent incident has caused many to drop Winston on their draft boards.
Freeman notes that draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN dropped Winston from third on his board down to the 25th best player available. His colleague Bill Polian, who formerly was the general manager of the Bills teams that made it to four consecutive Super Bowls and the Peyton Manning era Colts, was asked whether he would take Winston and replied “I don’t know.”
Freeman believes players like Winston will be used as a test case for the changing demeanor amongst NFL decision makers. It is unknown if the best player in college football will be drafted in the first round. There is a chance both Hardy and Rice are free agents this offseason, assuming they are not suspended. Peterson and Dwyer both could also be looking for new teams, depending on what the Vikings and Cardinals ultimately decide to do with them once their situations play out.
In time, it will be more clear whether player conduct becomes a more vital part of the evaluation process during the draft and free agency, and if that changes the climate of the NFL.