The trade of Santonio Holmes from the Steelers to the Jets for a fifth-round draft pick in next week’s draft proves two essential facts that don’t often get suitable attention in the NFL: Character counts, and when a trade seems too good to be true for one side, there is usually a lot more to it.
Every year that I was part of an NFL front office, I learned more about the value of character and having solid professionals in the locker room. Yes, no team can have a roster full of altar boys, and ultimately, talent plays a vital role in a team’s success. Nonetheless, there is no substitute for high character in shaping the dynamic of a team. Conversely, it’s never good for players, especially young players, to be infected by low morals.
Locker rooms are divided into different compartments, usually separated by position. Typically, there’s an alpha dog closely watched and emulated by the younger pups around him. The behavior and sense of entitlement of that player have an impact on others’ behavior and sense of entitlement.
In Green Bay, I remember some long offseasons with talented yet troubled players, one being Javon Walker, a supremely gifted receiver who arrived with a “yes sir, no sir” attitude that changed with his success. Javon suffered a knee injury and became – for reasons beyond and including his contract – disenchanted with living in Green Bay and playing for the Packers. His behavior became a problem and was contagious to some of our other young players. It became clear that it was time to move on, and we traded him during the 2006 draft for a second-round pick.
Holmes must go
I’m told that since his breakout game in Super Bowl XLIII 15 months ago, Holmes has shown some sense of entitlement in the Pittsburgh locker room. With young and upcoming players such as Limas Sweed (second round, 2008) and Mike Wallace (third round, 2009), along with newly acquired Arnaz Battle and Antwan Randle El back for another stint, the Steelers were hedging their bets on Holmes.
Holmes’ suspension to come is due to a violation of the league’s Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse, although his latest alleged incident involves conduct. Holmes’ recent behavior is neither new nor shocking. The one thing that becomes clear about people with a history of questionable behavior is that as much as we want change, it rarely happens.
Was anyone surprised when Pacman Jones continued to place himself in compromising positions? Was anyone surprised when Plaxico Burress ignored discipline from the Giants despite multiple fines? Does anyone really think that Terrell Owens will refrain from pointing fingers if he’s not successful?
I worry when I hear coaches or management say something like, “When he gets here, we’ll make sure he’s in the right environment and he won’t screw up.” History usually repeats itself.
With Holmes, his talent had overridden the problems that came with it. The latest incident, combined with what’s been going on with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, made Holmes expendable, which led to…
The Steelers took what they could get and ran. Is Santonio Holmes only worth a fifth-round pick? No (during the Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning drive, I kept yelling that all the Cardinals had to do was cover No. 10, but they couldn’t). This trade was not about player value. This trade took into account character and consequences.
The Steelers were informed that Holmes faced a four-game suspension in 2010, making his maximum games available 12. This spurred Pittsburgh’s conclusion that a change was necessary.
When trading for a player, teams want to know that the player is under contract for a respectable time frame, not subject to suspension by the league, accountable and available. Holmes is a player with questionable behavior, an expiring contract and limited availability next season.
The fact he was a Super Bowl MVP or had 1,248 receiving yards last year was secondary. The Steelers’ main objective was to move him off their roster and – according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – would have simply released him without compensation.
It’s up to you, New York
Enter the Jets. After adding Antonio Cromartie earlier in the offseason, they now bring in another player with a troublesome off-field reputation. Certainly, management feels this coach can take a potentially combustible mix of players and mold them into a productive group.
As with everything, time will tell, but this trade was about a lot of things, few of which were the on-field ability of the player.
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