In today’s NFL, players are expected to abide by a certain code of ethics and are given a very short leash as far as what’s expected of them. There’s a very fine line, and if you cross it or even tread it, Commissioner Roger Goodell has proven time and time again he’s willing to bring the hammer down on you. Playing in the NFL is a privilege given to a select few, not a right. For every Russell Wilson, who’s a likeable guy and who spends his off weeks at the local children’s hospital, there’s a Josh Gordon, a mercurial talent who can’t seem to get out of the way of his two front feet, and now faces a one-year suspension for violating his probation. The NFL landscape is littered with these “bad-boy” personas, and it seems as of late, the Pittsburgh Steelers were willing and able to see past some red flags and issue a second chance. After all, we all make mistakes and who doesn’t deserve a second chance? But has the team changed it’s stance, learning it’s lesson over the past few seasons?
Leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft, the team completely removed Ohio State tackle Mike Adams from it’s draft board for failing a marijuana test at the combine. Also of note, he missed five games of his final collegiate season for receiving improper benefits. Adams then took it upon himself to reach out to Pittsburgh, and after agreeing to a strict code of conduct, the Steelers agreed he was trying to change his life for the better, and thus he was their second-round pick.
“It’s more a risk than we’re usually comfortable in taking,” General Manager Kevin Colbert said. “But again, because he was forthcoming, because he took matters and met our criteria, we’re comfortable in taking the risk.”
After his lackluster play his first few seasons, coupled with an off-the-field stabbing incident, it’s fair to wonder whether 2015 will be his last year in the black and gold?
Last offseason, the team went on a very “Un-Steeler-like” free agency spree, and lured running back LeGarrette Blount into town, with the promise of receiving some of starter Le’Veon Bell’s touches. In training camp, it was noted that Blount was seen as a “bad apple” and a player who had taken Bell under his wing. Prior to a preseason game, it came to fruition as the two were arrested for marijuana possession, and a one-game, maybe more, suspension looms for Bell to start the 2015 season as a result. However, as the 2014 season progressed, Bell made it known who the backfield belonged to, smashing team records while Blount’s carries were few and far between other than a 118-yard game vs. Carolina in mop-up time. His frustration came to a head during a Monday-nighter vs. Tennessee when he left the field before the game was even over. That spelled his ultimate demise, as he was abruptly waived the following day. Even dating back to college, he was seen as a player with a checkered history, sucker punching a player after a loss, so the team signing him was a bit of a head scratcher, just like the Adams selection.
Leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, there are a number of prospects who would look great in black and gold but who’s background throws up multiple red flags. Draft analyst Todd McShay recently posted a mock draft with University of Washington cornerback Marcus Peters heading to Pittsburgh. Arguably the most talented corner to come out in a long time, Peters was accused of various spats with the coaching staff at Washington, including choking an assistant. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that interview room, to hear his side of the story and see the types of questions Colbert and Mike Tomlin ask him. That is, if he’s even on their draft radar at all.
How about University of Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham? Once the most coveted recruit in the nation, his luck finally ran out after several off-the-field incidences at the school, including two marijuana-related and one where he allegedly pushed a woman down a flight of stairs. He will have some convincing to do as well at the combine, as he’s drawing exact comparisons to Cleveland Browns’ problem child Josh Gordon. However, with a 6-foot-6 frame and speed to boot, he conjures up images of a Randy Moss/Calvin Johnson-type presence, capable of stretching the field. If he’s there at 22, and the front office feels comfortable, would they pull the trigger on such a polarizing presence? Ben Roethlisberger always asked for a big receiver, and he got one last year in Martavis Bryant, but couple massive “DGB” with him and All-Pro Antonio Brown and you could have the makings of something really special.
Even former Steeler and Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes was jettisoned from Pittsburgh for his wrongdoings, and he recently tweeted to Roethlisberger “let’s make magic again!” Holmes, now 31, wouldn’t break the bank to sign, and he could offer value as a fourth or fifth receiver, especially with Justin Brown being let go, and Lance Moore asking for his release as well. The question is, has the front office learned from these past few mistakes, as it’s now affecting their future, with the looming loss of Bell for a number of games a potentially significant one.
Long known to be a team with zero tolerance for these types of issues, it’s stance has seemed to lighten up over the last few years. Even dating back to the Steel Curtain days, Jack Lambert would’ve ripped your skull off and spit on your brain on the field, but off it he never made any news headlines affecting the team’s well being. It will be interesting to see over the next few weeks and months, with the NFL Combine and Pro Days scheduled. One thing is for sure, the front office will definitely be doing their fair share of homework on potential problem-child prospects.