Eagles fans want a Super Bowl. At any cost.
It is easy to say that, but reality is so much trickier. Are fans willing to cheer for players with serious questions in their past?
Football is a brutal, primal game. We talk all the time about character, but the clean guys Chip Kelly loaded the roster with didn’t exactly win a ton of games. It is unfortunate that sometimes the best players are highly flawed human beings. Reggie White was the anomaly, not the norm. He was a guy you could be proud of on and off the field.
Think about a pair of recent Florida State QBs. E.J. Manuel had no character issues at FSU. He had a good career, going 25-6 as a starter. He was a good student. Manuel was drafted in the 1st round, but that was a mistake. For all his good traits, he was a flawed prospect on the field. Jameis Winston is a very different subject. He was a great college player and led his team to the national title. There was no question that he deserved to be a high pick.
Except for character.
Winston was accused of rape. He avoided prosecution, but did settle a civil suit with his accuser. Beyond that horrific situation, he had other legal issues. There is also the fact that he handled the rape allegation so poorly. He never seemed to grasp the gravity of the situation and acted as if nothing happened. Even if he was innocent, being accused of something like that should be overwhelming and really affect the way you act.
I will never be comfortable with Winston. I’ll always think of the rape accusation when I think of him.
If I had to choose either Manuel or Winston to lead a TD drive to save my life, there is no question that Winston would be the choice. He is an infinitely better football player. And that’s what makes football and character such a complex marriage. If you want to win games, you simply cannot have the best people. You must be willing to embrace some turds, for lack of a more eloquent phrase.
Will the Eagles do that this year?
Ezekiel Elliott would seem to be heading to the turd category right now, but he had a brilliant rookie season for Dallas and is already one of the best RBs in the NFL. He’s a special player so he might be worth the headache. You know the Eagles front office had to be thinking about Elliott when they brought in Dalvin Cook for a visit. He could be their talented turd/star runner.
The Eagles could go for CB Teez Tabor in the 2nd round. He hasn’t assaulted anyone, but apparently has multiple positive drug tests. That’s also reportedly an issue with Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams. Michigan CB Jourdain Lewis was recently charged with domestic violence. The Eagles could use CB help, but is he a guy you want to draft?
Oklahoma has a pair of very talented prospects. Dede Westbrook is one of the best receivers in the draft. Joe Mixon has 1st round talent and looks like a special RB at times. But boy do they have issues. Westbrook had a couple of troubling incidents.
Before he was recruited by Oklahoma and his improbable rise to college football fame, Sooners WR Dede Westbrook was twice arrested on family violence complaints, according to documents obtained by the Tulsa World.
Westbrook was accused of throwing the mother of his two children to the ground in 2012 and biting the same woman’s arm and punching her with a closed fist in 2013, according to the report. Westbrook was never convicted in either incident, however.
Mixon is well known at this point. He punched a fellow OU student back in 2014, leaving her with 4 broken bones. The video is troubling to say the least. It is one thing to hear about arrests or drug tests or charges, but seeing the incident makes it feel so much more real.
It would be easy to say the Eagles should take all of these players off their draft board. Who wants to cheer for guys like that?
Kansas City took a chance on Tyreek Hill last year and he turned out to be hugely important for them. Hill was kicked out of Oklahoma State for choking his pregnant girlfriend. That’s about as troubling as it gets. He went to West Alabama and finished his college career. KC took him in the 5th round and he was a key reason that team got to the playoffs last year. Without Hill, they don’t make it.
Should they be embarrassed by having Hill on their team? Should they apologize for his success?
We all have to decide what we can live with.
I don’t believe in drawing a line in the sand. I know it is a cliche, but I do believe things have to be done on a case-by-case basis. One of the issues here is that we’re talking about young men. I was a better, more responsible person at 25 than I was at 20. Part of that is due to learning from mistakes. I never choked a pregnant woman, though, and that’s a huge difference. Being a knucklehead who drinks too much beer is worlds different from someone who is violent, especially with women.
In some cases, circumstances matter. Laveranues Coles had multiple issues prior to the NFL. Assault. Academic suspension. Theft. Improper benefits. He was finally kicked off the Florida State team. Quite the scumbag, right? It turns out he was sexually abused as a kid and that affected him for a long time. Becoming an adult and getting into the environment of professional football brought out the best in him. To my knowledge, he never got in trouble in the NFL and was generally considered a good player and good teammate.
Coles is the anomaly for the most part, but that’s why it is important for teams to judge players as individuals and not just draw a line in the sand.
I think one of the keys to taking a chance on a player with character issues is that you need to put that guy in the right environment. Think about Hill in KC. He had a strong head coach in Andy Reid. Alex Smith is a veteran QB and good leader. Jamal Charles, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Eric Berry were the kind of team leaders who create a strong environment and police themselves. That’s a good situation for Hill.
Are the Eagles ready to handle a troubled player?
Carson Wentz is a young QB, but has already proven to be a good leader. Darren Sproles, Brent Celek, Jason Peters and Malcolm Jenkins are big time team leaders. Doug Pederson is only in his second year as coach, but he learned under Reid and seems to have a good feel for the locker room. I don’t think Pederson would bring in a questionable player if he thought his players couldn’t handle the situation.
The Eagles took players with some issues late last year. Jalen Mills and Alex McAlister each fell in the draft due to character concerns. Spending an early pick on Cook or the other players mentioned above would be a completely different story. That player would have high expectations and would be under a microscope. Every action would be heavily scrutinized.
The flip side is that the Eagles would be adding a key talent that could make the team better. Maybe much better. Risk. Reward.
Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas, Doug Pederson and the rest of the front office have to decide if this is the right time to take a chance on a player and if that player is in this class. Trying to balance having a team the city can be proud of and a team that can win games is a tough task. I don’t envy them some of the decisions they’ll have to make in the next month.