Posted: 9:25 p.m.
Lewis: Change in draft philosophyPHOENIX, Ariz. — Marvin Lewis is saying the Bengals are out of the bargain-basement business when it comes to character and draft picks next month and a lot of his coaching peers agree with him as NFL personnel broke from the annual league meeting Wednesday to go home and prepare for the April 28-29 NFL Draft.
But the issue remains as murky as how to discipline off-field misbehavior, a trend so fast and elusive that the Titans' Pacman Jones and teams like the Jaguars have taken the Bad Boy Bengals off the cutting edge of the issue.
Even beleaguered Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry got some empathy here at the NFC coaches' breakfast from Seattle's Mike Holmgren. Like everyone else at the Arizona Biltmore, Holmgren read the USA Today hanging from his doorknob reporting that Henry's three traffic violations (one of which he was not wearing a seat belt) may send him to jail.
"You get the chart. There have been 45 arrests or 45 incidents in the last three years. Well, one of those is this seat belt deal," Holmgren said. "So you have a seat belt thing. Then you have Pacman Jones. And that's 43 and 44. You can't just lump them all together."
Which is Lewis' point when he discussed how to categorize players on the draft board at Tuesday's AFC breakfast. After the 2005 draft in which linebacker Odell Thurman slid from the first round to the second round because of some drug problems and Henry slid from the first round to the third because of anger management issues and a volatile relationship with the West Virginia coaching staff, Lewis has been through the mill.
He has been saying that the Bengals simply can't afford to make any more baggage claims no matter the round. Hard to blame him with Thurman serving a year suspension for violating the substance abuse policy and Henry staring at a possible significant suspension with four arrests.
"This a broad range of subjects," Lewis said. "I'm thinking of specific things. You guys are thinking of everything. A guy that has social problems with drugs and alcohol is going to have a hard time. A guy that has trouble getting along with teammates and coaches has a hard time. A guy that doesn't like (to be insulted) and comes back at you, I can live with that guy. It's a wide range of things."
Giants coach Tom Coughlin calls it "degrees." "Categories." It's easy for people to say teams should take all players with character flaws off their board.
"But then," Coughlin said, "if they all came off, there (wouldn't be many players left). I'm being facetious. We're in a time when this is a hot topic. For most of us, the issues have always been there.
"Believe me now, there was a switching of positions," said Coughlin of Tuesday's player conduct discussion with commissioner Roger Goodell. "'How many (coaches) feel like you'll be the savior?" That is in a lot of people's minds. 'If this kid is under me, I can get to this guy.' It does happen until all of a sudden you know that your values and the values of that kid are so far apart, there's no way."
Every coach, every team has a different experience. Holmgren got burned when he ignored tight end Jerramy Stevens' off-field issues at Washington State and took him in the 2002 first round.
"My own feeling is that unless it's something pretty serious, I just don't see the draft being affected that much," Holmgren said. "I think there are a couple owners that got up (Tuesday) and said, 'Look, we might not take him in the first round, but if he drops maybe to a third-round pick, hey.' And then you always have the thing that when I get him, we'll fix it. And I think it's a very honest feeling most of the time.
"Believe it or not, we've always drafted that way, except for one guy," Holmgren said of Stevens. "Then when (GM) Tim (Ruskell) came, he really has, he is pretty strict about that. He doesn't want to mess around with anything. I will say I did that one time."
Like Holmgren, Goodell wants to be careful about using a broad brush.
"I won't lump all of these incidents into a bowl and deal with it," Goodell said. "I'm not trying to send a signal here and make examples of people. We'll do what we need to protect the integrity of the NFL. That's our objective."
Carl Peterson, the Chiefs president, keeps pounding the pre-draft research but he also knows there's not a clear-cut answer.
"The Kansas City Chiefs do take guys off the board. Yes. Or we say we're not going to draft this guy in the first day because if we draft him and we have to give him too much money, the risk is not worth the reward," Peterson said. "So we'll move him into the second day. Have we taken guys later? Absolutely. Have we suffered for it? Absolutely. You have to be careful."
Saints coach Sean Payton, who grabbed Bengals free agents Brian Simmons and Kevin Kaesviharn partially because they are "tough character guys," insists the character-flawed prospects are in the can before the New Orleans draft starts.
"Off, off, off," Payton said. "If he's a bad apple in the first round, he's just as much a bad apple in the fourth. Really, it hurts just as much. If it doesn't work out, the risk isn't as much as the reward.
"In my mind we have to a responsibility to the current roster to bring in the right person. The players in that locker room are counting on that. That's where I get that sense of responsibility that these guys are counting on us bringing in the right guys."
The Colts' Tony Dungy has been taking guys off boards for a decade as an NFL head coach and he knows it's not an exact science.
"We kind of say we either want the guy or we don't," said Dungy of a flawed prospect. "If we don't want him and feel it's going to be too much of a risk to bring him in the locker room however you get him, it's still the same person.
"There are a lot of people (taken off our board) playing and a lot of those guys haven't had any problems," Dungy said. "It's not to say every guy that you take off your board turns out to be a bad guy. They may be very good guys and good players that don't fit what you're looking for."
Coughlin and Dungy began coaching in the NFL in the early '80s, and they see the money and they see the media coverage of crimes and they see the difference. But Dungy says that's why it's important the NFL has to get better at conduct.
Coughlin had to agree with Raiders owner Al Davis when he said it's so difficult to interview a player nowadays because he is so used to being interviewed since he was in high school that he can be so smooth and convincing.
Coughlin said the joke is now that teams sit around trying to invent so many different ways to ask questions because agents prepare their clients so extensively:
"You follow, 'What kind of ice cream do you like?' with 'When was the last time you smoked marijuana?' "
"It's the information age and information network. It's what they mimic. It's the sensationalism in which we live today," Coughlin said. "The idea of trying to be different, so much attention to the individual aspects instead of team. Most of us were trained to be team first."
Just like Lewis. He sees breakdowns in society. Even what would appear to be a small thing, such as coaches that don't teach at the high school now doing a lot of the coaching, has had a negative impact and made today's player different. But like Dungy, Lewis says the league has to deal with it instead of doling out blame.
"Let them know right away," Lewis said. "This is going to be the consequences for your actions."