Evan Rodriguez was a risky pick when the Chicago Bears selected him in the fourth round of last year's draft. As a freshman at West Virginia, he was charged with felony assault against a female, which was eventually reduced to misdemeanor disturbance and trespassing. He then transferred to Temple and was arrested two years later for disorderly conduct.
Yet Rodriguez shined on the football field for the Owls, serving as the club's H-back, which is a hybrid fullback/tight end position. He showed very good ability as a blocker, as well as soft hands as a receiver. The Bears saw a versatile offensive player that could fill a number of roles and pushed his character concerns aside, selecting him with the 127th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Emery addressed Rodriguez's personal issues during the draft:
"I'll acknowledge up front that I know that he has had past issues. He transferred from the University of West Virginia after '07. He had some incidents. He transferred. He has had some incidents at Temple. That's precisely why we brought him in. That's precisely why we had [former running backs] coach [Tim] Spencer work him out and spend some time with him. Everybody in this building has spent quality time on him.
"I happen to have a personal relationship with the athletic trainer there, we worked together at the University of Tennessee. I spent a lot of time with him on Evan when I went in there for a visit. I went to two games and also went to a campus visit, so I went there three times this fall.
"Our area scout Rex Hogan has extensive contacts at Temple. I've known the prior strength coach professionally when I was a strength coach. He has had two taskmasters as head coach: coach [Steve] Addazio this past year and coach [Al] Golden. They spent time with him. They both signed off on this guy's character. He's a very tough, physical football player. And we're very excited to have him."
After being selected, Rodriguez also discussed his past transgressions.
"Well basically as my Dad says, we all make mistakes. It's growing pains as long as you learn from your mistakes and don't let them happen again and mature, which I have done. They believed in me and I'm happy they gave me this opportunity and I'm not going to let them down."
It took Rodriguez less than a year to do just that. This March, while training in Florida with teammates Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, Rodriguez was charged with resisting arrest and disorderly intoxication. The incident took place during a traffic stop. Rodriguez was the passenger in the car and he was reportedly verbally abusive to the police on the scene and would not cooperate with their requests. The charges were eventually dropped after he paid a $1,500 bond.
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"I certainly was disappointed in his arrest," Emery said at the start of voluntary minicamp. "Certainly Evan knows I was disappointed; he was re-educated with my expectations of a Chicago Bear off the field and I certainly expect good things from him. He was in the middle of having a good offseason training with Brandon. He made an error as far as where he was at, time and place. Fortunately there's been no case going forward but I was disappointed in him and he's aware of that."
And now, less than two months later, Rodriguez has been charged with driving under the influence. The incident took place on I-90 at 3:30 a.m. yesterday morning. His blood alcohol level was reportedly 0.17, which is more than twice the legal limit. According to numerous online blood alcohol calculators, a 249-pound male needs roughly 13-15 beers, or glasses of wine, to reach that level of intoxication.
Let's not pull any punches here: Rodriguez has a drinking problem. Every one of his run-ins with the law has been alcohol related. He obviously won't stop drinking, even though it has caused him to hit a woman, berate police officers, drive while unbelievably intoxicated and more. With his six-figure salary on the line, he chose to party all night and then get behind the wheel after drinking enough alcohol to kill a small person.
This is a downward spiral that must end immediately. Hopefully he has hit bottom with this past incident and he can now pull his life back together. Yet even if that happens, he's going to pay for his recent stupidity.
The NFL is going to discipline him. That much is for certain. Even when charges are dropped, the league can still fine and suspend players. Just ask Ben Roethlisberger. Rodriguez's wallet is going to take a big hit and he'll likely missed a few games this year.
Yet what will the Bears do with Rodriguez? Emery spent 10 minutes defending Rodriguez's character after he drafted him and had to again defend him two months ago. Yesterday's DUI means Rodriguez has made Emery look like a fool twice in less than two months.
How many times will a GM accept a player disrespecting him, the city and the organization that pays him? Emery has shown a willingness to give players second and third chances – Brandon Marshall, D.J. Williams, Kyle Long and Marquess Wilson, to name a few – but those guys haven't yet messed up under Emery's watch. Their problems were pre-Chicago. On top of his issues in college, Rodriguez has now spit in Emery's face twice in an eight-week span.
We're approaching uncharted territory for the second-year GM, who hasn't had to deal with a mess like this since taking the job. How he responds will send a message to the rest of the organization in regard to his tolerance for behavior detrimental to the team and the franchise.
My prediction: I believe the Bears will give Rodriguez one more chance, although he's going to be on a short leash from here on out. The main reason he won't be cut is because he's too valuable on offense. During the offseason programs, he has been working with the first team at nearly every position on offense. He's been lined up at fullback, H-back, in the slot and out wide. He's been a primary motion man and has again demonstrated solid hands in the passing game.
There is no other player on the roster who can do all of those things and the Bears know it. He's a mismatch nightmare for whom Marc Trestman has big plans. If Rodriguez were nothing more than a backup, he likely would have been cut already but talented athletes tend to get more leeway than non-impact players. He'll be punished for sure but I'll be very surprised if this latest incident results in his release from the team.
Mike Ditka was charged with driving under the influence while coaching the team and the Bears are going to retire his number, so a DUI isn't the end of the world. But Rodriguez must quickly change his ways and be a beast on the field if he's going to last in Chicago.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.