How much baggage is too much?
There’s some interesting stuff here from ESPN about when hiring “risks” is the right decision, and what it takes to rehabilitate someone’s credibility on a team—so I’m posting it as good fodder in thinking through these decisions for other organizations as well.
After signing Jones to a two-year contract in February 2010, the Bengals invested heavily in supporting him. It’s even more telling that Lewis would take Jones after enduring multiple player problems in a 12-month period between January 2006 and January 2007. Nine Bengals players were arrested during that time period. However, two people helped Jones’ cause: Fisher, his head coach in Tennessee, and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who coached Jones in Dallas.
Both saw Jones as a talented athlete worth saving. It helped that Lewis also had previous success with risky acquisitions such as Owens and running back Cedric Benson.
“Adam didn’t just need a relationship with me,” Lewis said. “He’s needed one with his position coach, his defensive coordinator, the security people, the team chaplain, the trainers, the front office, everybody. And he’s been all in from day one. His talent level is so great that he got away with taking shortcuts before. He’s had to learn a lot of fundamental stuff, from how to eat right to talking to people to formulating thoughts when he’s asked a question. We’ve tried to help with that.”
“The support has been huge from the top down,” said Jones. “When I got here, I knew it had to work. Sometimes you get to the point where you know you have to be a man. I realized I couldn’t let myself down anymore.”
The Titans were Randy Moss’ third team in 2010, but the receiver impressed Jeff Fisher with his focus.
Jones’s efforts behind the scenes—he has spoken to kids around Cincinnati as well as at the league’s rookie symposium—also speak to another factor in deciding on risky players: being able to distinguish between their real personalities and their images.
“You have to delve into the issues and decide if you can turn a grape into wine,” Rams general manager Les Snead said. “But you also have to understand that every guy who sits across from you says he’s going to change. I’ve never once heard of a player saying, ‘I’m not going to change.’ You can get sincerity in an interview but you have to see how he handles things once he’s out there.”
Moss and Owens both likely earned their current jobs because of the impressions they left on their last employers. Though Moss lasted just four weeks in Minnesota after New England traded him there in 2010, Fisher thoroughly enjoyed coaching Moss in Tennessee after claiming him off waivers. The coach once even found Moss tutoring the team’s younger receivers at 7 a.m. on their off day. Moss, who has been known to slack off during games, also impressed Fisher by staying focused when he was used mainly as a decoy.
Owens had a similar impact in Cincinnati in 2010 after being a self-obsessed destructive force in places like San Francisco and Philadelphia. Along with being the team’s best receiver, he educated his teammates on why he’d played in six Pro Bowls. Owens broke his hand in practice on a Thursday and played in a game on Sunday. He sat in front of the meeting rooms, with highlighter in hand, and gave his fellow receivers a sense of how to take notes. If Owens couldn’t practice because of injury, he’d always have his playbook with him on the field while he watched.
Lewis wouldn’t have seen those qualities if he hadn’t trusted the support Owens received from former Bengals such as Johnson and quarterback Carson Palmer. “I had the chance to talk with Terrell before we signed him and again after we signed him,” Lewis said. “He had coaching issues, team issues, locker room issues, and we got it all on the table. Terrell’s problem is that he thinks he can get open and catch a pass on every play even though you can’t always get the ball to him. But I always say there is T.O. and there is Terrell. Terrell is a hell of a person.”
Regardless of the risks teams take on players with baggage, the greatest factor in the decisions tend to have little to do with coaching or front-office support. Instead, it’s the locker room that ultimately decides a troubled player’s fate. If a team has enough strong veteran leaders, it usually feels more comfortable rolling the dice. If a franchise is in rebuilding mode or winning with a young roster, the last thing it wants is a disruptive presence.
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