Rick Gosselin writes about pro football for The Dallas Morning News
Draft prospects pay for off-field misdeeds
Teams are being more cautious about players with character issues
11:59 PM CDT on Saturday, May 5, 2007
It's been less than a month since NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced his crackdown on personal conduct, and already he has seen signs of progress. More important, he's heard signs of progress.
"In talking with clubs, they indicated to me it impacted their decisions on the players," Goodell said of the draft. "Character has always been an issue, but I think it played a greater role than it has in the past."
Goodell said he has received positive feedback from outside the NFL as well.
"I've heard from five Division I-A coaches who all say it's having an impact at their level," Goodell said, "not only in how they recruit, but in sending a message to their players that if you want to go to the next level, you'd better understand what they are expecting of you."
Goodell also witnessed that impact last weekend at the NFL draft.
There were a handful of players with character issues in the draft, including cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Eric Wright and safety Brandon Meriweather, defensive linemen Jarvis Moss, Marcus Thomas and DeMarcus "Tank" Tyler and former UT halfback Ramonce Taylor. Some had arrests in their past, others had team suspensions.
In my draft research, 15 teams told me they had taken Brown, a North Mesquite and UT product, and Wright completely off their draft boards. Character issues cost some players to slide a few picks, other players a full round and still others several rounds.
Wright and Thomas were first-round talents as football players. But Wright slid to the middle of the second round and Thomas all the way to the fourth. Brown was rated as a second-round talent on some NFL draft boards, but he fell to the fifth round. Tyler's value slid from late first round into the third, and Taylor went undrafted.
Meriweather was rated as the No. 2 safety on some NFL draft boards but slid to the late first round and was the fourth safety selected. Meriweather, Moss, Thomas and Tyler were all off a handful NFL draft boards.
Moss, a Denton Ryan product, felt the slide the least. Denver traded up to select the draft's second-best pass rusher with the 17th overall pick. The Broncos also traded up in the fourth round for Thomas. New England selected Meriweather, Cleveland took Wright, and San Francisco picked Brown. All did so understanding the risk involved.
MICHAEL MULVEY / DMN
Texas A&M safety Melvin Bullitt went undrafted but was picked up as a free agent by the Indianapolis Colts.
"If clubs take chances on players with character issues and it blows up in their faces," Goodell said, "there will be negative public reaction, there will be [salary] cap consequences and potentially there could be the discipline that I instill from a league standpoint against the team. We'll have to see how that goes."
That discipline would probably come in the form of a fine.
Goodell has already disciplined players, suspending Tennessee cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones and Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry for all (Jones) or part (Henry) of the 2007 season. But he hasn't cracked down on any teams yet.
"If you are bringing in the wrong type of player – which I can't control and don't want to control, that's a club decision – then you have to re-evaluate the kind of people you bring in," Goodell said. "That's the reason for having club discipline. At some point in time, you're going to have to re-evaluate the type of people you bring into your organization."
Goodell said he didn't expect the problem to be solved overnight. He said his office continues to explore ways to modify and improve the policy. But he believes the NFL is headed in the right direction.
"You have to manage your expectations on this," Goodell said. "In the first year, seeing a guy going from the first round to the fourth round is a pretty strong message.
"The players have to understand you are risking your careers in the NFL."
Next man up:
Travis Henry is penciled in as the starting halfback for the Denver Broncos this season. But our advice to him is to rent a house, don't buy. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has rid himself of his leading rusher after each of the last four seasons. All were 1,000-yard rushers – and all were gone before the Broncos returned to training camp:
• Clinton Portis led the Broncos in rushing in 2003. He was traded to the Washington Redskins that off-season.
• Reuben Droughns led the Broncos in rushing in 2004. He was traded to the Cleveland Browns that off-season.
• Mike Anderson led the Broncos in rushing in 2005. He was waived by Denver that off-season.
• Tatum Bell led the Broncos in rushing in 2006. He was traded to the Detroit Lions this off-season.