NFL Draft: Conduct Policy Ramifications
While you’re sitting at home this weekend with your bag of chips and six-pack, try not to be too surprised when you witness an unprecedented number of highly skilled players fall to lower draft positions (and even lower rounds). The NFL’s new conduct policy delivered harsh suspensions to Adam “Pacman” Jones and Chris Henry earlier this month, but its effects will also shape the way this weekend’s draft ultimately plays out. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has stated that discipline for individuals who violate the new conduct policy will include larger fines, longer suspensions, and discipline can even be handed out for conduct that is not criminal in nature. Repeat violators will be dealt with aggressively and individuals suspended under the policy must earn their way back to active status by fully complying with professional counseling and treatment that will include evaluation on a regular basis. Most importantly, the commissioner has stated that potential punishments for NFL teams could include fines or the loss of draft selections.
You better believe that with such serious ramifications NFL scouts will be more selective in their evaluations and general managers will be more averse to taking risks on players who have one too many “red flags”. Some coaches have said that they won’t even consider taking players who have a history of discipline problems. Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, after having nine players arrested in a nine month span and with wide receiver Chris Henry suspended for half of the 2007 season, has stated, “There’s a tendency to buy the bargain [with players with discipline problems] and we’re not in a position to do that anymore.” Eric DeCosta, the Ravens’ director of college scouting, expressed a similar sentiment by stating, “We’ve always felt pressure to avoid the troubled kids, the bad-character guys. We’d rather not deal with those type of players.”
How will this affect the NFL draft? Think back to the 1998 draft where Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss was projected as a high first round pick. Because of a handful of off the field incidents, Moss’ stock plummeted. He was passed up by numerous teams that were in need of a wide receiver until he was finally picked up with the 21st selection by the Minnesota Vikings. With the new NFL conduct policy, expect to see a lot more cases that mirror Moss’ situation. While watching the draft, keep an eye on where the following troubled players are selected:
- Brandon Meriweather – safety, Miami – Last season, Meriweather returned fire in an altercation in which one of his teammates was shot. No charges were filed. Meriweather also received a one-game suspension after he was spotted stomping on opposing players’ legs and violently swinging his helmet during a brawl that interrupted Miami’s game against Florida International.
- Marcus Thomas – defensive tackle, Florida – Failed two drugs tests and was eventually dismissed from the team after violating rules that were put in place to monitor his conduct.
- Eric Wright – cornerback, UNLV – Transferred from the University of Southern California after he was accused of sexual assault and over 100 Ecstasy pills were found in his apartment. No charges were filed.
- Rufus Alexander – linebacker, Oklahoma – Arrested on misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace and interfering with police.
- Ramonce Taylor – running back, Texas – Following a large brawl that Ramonce took part in, he was arrested when police found over five pounds of marijuana and live 40-caliber ammunition in his car.
- Tarell Brown – cornerback, Texas – Arrested on misdemeanor weapons and marijuana charges. Those carges were dropped, but the following March he was arrested again for alleged marijuana possession.
- Marshawn Lynch – running back, California – Accused of sexual assault in January. No charges were filed.
- Jarvis Moss – defensive end, Florida – Suspended for a game for violating team drug rules.
- Tank Tyler – defensive tackle, NC State – Pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after confrontation with a police officer during the 2005 season. Tyler was also ejected from a game spitting on an opponent.
How will the new NFL conduct policy affect the sports agency business?: Purely speculation, but I would not be surprised to see many agents shy away from representing players with a history of discipline problems. Sports agents take a risk every time they represent a new NFL player. Thousands of dollars are paid up-front by agents to train and prepare their prospects in hopes of being selected higher in the draft. Since agents do not get paid until their clients get paid, more agents may not want to risk taking a loss if their star client could potentially face long-term suspensions (and possibly permanent expulsion from the league following repeat violations). One agent who is already feeling the monetary effects of the conduct policy is Richard Burnoski, University of Florida defensive tackle Marcus Thomas’ agent. Burnoski is offering NFL teams a forfeiture clause that would refund Thomas’ signing bonus if he failed a drug test at any time during the duration of his contract. Burnoski has also spent over $1,200 dollars to have Thomas undergo weekly drug tests; documentation of these tests have swayed the opinion of some teams, but it hasn’t convinced many others. In the near future, we may see a breed of agent that markets himself to his client, and his client’s family, as a mentor who can help him turn around a checkered past and succeed in the NFL. One thing is certain, players who repeatedly face trouble in college will not only cost themselves millions of dollars in contract money, but they may also lose their chance to garner representation from many quality agents.