The NFL has been a reactionary league and business, perhaps almost over reactionary. Regardless, this offseason, which brought us multiple reckless tweets, 31 NFL player arrests (Jan 1 to July 23), 2 back to back front office DUI’s in Denver, and an alleged homicide by Aaron Hernandez, will result in the league office drawing a very thick fine line in the sand on player behavior.
Although, player arrests on average are only up by about 3 over the last 2 seasons (according to the unofficial score keepers PFT), it seems like they are getting a lot more attention than they have in the past. With year round football sites competitively on the hunt for content, nothing is slipping through the cracks anymore. Even TMZ is getting in on the act with TMZ sports. How? By recruiting anyone with a cell phone to send them information, pictures and/or videos on players behaving badly.
Whether it’s a shirtless Pro Bowl player having some harmless fun partying his ass off in Vegas or at a concert, a DUI, or an unpopular tweet, I promise you that the execs at 345 Park Avenue are taking notice and they are changing their game plan on curbing embarrassing behavior. The new game plan will reach far beyond increasing disciplinary actions.
This is what we may see coming:
HGH testing will be fast tracked: Although the commitment to HGH testing was a mutually agreed upon component of the new CBA, the timing, details and discipline were never finalized in 2011. The league knows that once this regular season kicks off, it will be difficult to get the players to agree to any testing whatsoever in 2013. However, Roger wants to tidy up the league right now and tie up any loose ends in the CBA. His focus is on player behavior, health, safety, and of course the league’s image. After all, it’s the shield that advertisers want to be associated with. My guess is that some form of population test will be approved and implemented near the end of training camp. However, I don’t think the NFLPA will allow any disciplinary actions to be tied to the first round of testing this year. Getting HGH testing underway is symbolic for the league, as they want to send a message to players, fans and sponsors that the NFL product is clean and getting cleaner.
The 2014 draft will be known as the “character draft”: In light of the Hernandez arrest and alleged criminal activity, the league will send a strong message to its owners: That’s right, the owners! The message; “do your homework before drafting a player”. Owners will ask their GMs to hold their scouting staffs accountable for the character and behavioral issues of their draftees. Pressure will roll downhill to the evaluators to dig deeper on the character issue. Players with any history of violence, arrests and/or association with drugs, whether real or perceived, will sink like a bowling ball in a swimming pool come draft day. Potential 1st rounders (with baggage) that normally fall to the 2nd or 3rd round in previous drafts may fall to the late rounds. Some tarnished type players who got signed as undrafted free agents this year, won't get signed at all in 2014. Furthermore, no scout or GM will have any incentive to take risk in bringing what may be deemed an “at risk character player”.
Side note: So listen up college and high school players, keep your nose clean and behave yourself if you want a chance at playing in the NFL.
Less tolerance from owners: Many players in the league were given second and even third chances when they tripped up off the field. If they were a good player, a good teammate and liked by the coaches, they always got another chance. However, with image now becoming almost as important as wins, many teams will have an unwritten one-strike rule for their players. There will be exceptions of course when a contract marries a team to a troubled player. But look for teams to be less patient and quickly move on from troubled players.
There is no doubt that the NFL has suffered an image problem this year and will be coming into the season with a black eye. The NFL wants to keep its sponsors and fans happy. If the sponsors, who spend billions to feed the golden goose, lose interest in associating their brand with the NFL, then advertising deals will shrink and revenues will fall. Therefore, it’s important for the owners to keep their partners very happy.
On another note, I read somewhere the other day that only less than 2% of all NFL players have had some type of off-field issue and or disciplinary issue compared with 10% of the general population. It’s a shame that it gets overlooked but NFL players as a whole have spent their offseason visiting troops, raising money for charities, giving free camps and lending their time in speaking to young kids about solid virtues. Unfortunately, our media is not hardwired to cover any of the good that players do with their time and money.
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