The Character Concern

Since the NFL Draft, we've talked about the impact of Tyson Jackson, the potential of Colin Brown, and the proper pronunciation of Ryan Succop's last name. As it turns out, KC's rookies have turned into a topic on a national level. Unfortunately, they have come under fire for their alleged character issues.

What character issues, you ask? To be honest, that's what I want to know.

Without question, this discussion starts with Donald Washington, the Ohio State cornerback taken by the Chiefs in the fourth round. Before the Buckeyes played in the 2007 national championship, a rumor surfaced that Washington and a fellow defensive back had been suspended for the game for an unspecified violation of team rules.

The rumor was proven untrue – at least at first. While the other player named in the story did face discipline, Washington played in the title game as scheduled. Several months later, however, it was announced he'd be suspended for the first two games of the 2008 season.

Since the details around the suspension aren't public knowledge, it's not entirely clear as to whether Washington was being punished for what happened in late 2007 or for some separate transgression. According to a report in the Columbus Dispatch, Washington appealed his rumored suspension prior to the title game with LSU, so perhaps the punishment was held over until the next season.

Whatever the case may be, the bottom line is that Washington was suspended two games for a rules violation. That incident is a valid topic when discussing character concerns, and it's not something the Chiefs are shying away from. Washington's issues were addressed by Todd Haley.

But forget Washington, what about the rest of KC's rookie class? Did the Chiefs draft other players with similarly questionable profiles?

According to some national outlets, the answer is allegedly, "yes."

This issue began with a blurb that appeared in Pro Football Weekly. While praising Kansas City's draft as "outstanding," writer Nolan Nawrocki penned the following:

"Character questions forced DT Alex Magee and CB Donald Washington to slip, but both possess clear starter potential."

We've covered Washington, but this is the first – and, to my knowledge, the only – mention of any Magee character issues. As a contrast, taken from NFL.com, here's a brief Magee bio:

"The consummate team player, Magee volunteered to move to defensive end from his familiar defensive tackle position when injuries depleted the depth at that position in 2008. Learning a new position was sort of a baptism under fire for the former right tackle who also had to switch sides, moving over to left end.

While his numbers did not stand out like in previous seasons, he also provided valuable leadership for a young, but inexperienced defensive unit in head coach Joe Tiller's final season. It was Magee's task to serve as the unit's policeman, making sure that everyone was positioned right and knew their assignments. Policing the defense was appropriate for the senior, who hopes to one day work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Drug Enforcement Agency."


As it specifically relates to his character, CBSSports.com printed the following:

"Magee is a quiet sort who shows good maturity. The coaches say he is pleasant, respectful and a good mentor for the team's younger players. He made a personal sacrifice moving to defensive end as a senior, especially since it did not help him fine tune some of the technique work he needed to work on against double teams as a defensive tackle."

Those descriptions don't sound like a player who slipped due to character concerns. Since this appears to be the only notable reference to any Magee issues, one has to wonder if PFW simply made a mistake and confused him with another player.

It's been known to happen. To cite one of many such examples, after USC offensive lineman Drew Radovich went undrafted last year, it was mentioned on the NFL Network that teams had backed away from him because of character issues and alleged off-field incidents. However, it turned out to be a case of mistaken identify, and it was later clarified that teams shied away from Radovich because of a back injury.

Now we have a pair of columns that have appeared in recent days on the National Football Post.

Michael Lombardi is a former personnel guru who spent 20 years in the NFL, most recently with the Raiders and Broncos. Once his time behind the scenes came to an end, he became a notable media personality due to appearances on NFL Network and his internet writings. During draft weekend, you may recall him reporting the quickly-disputed story that the Chiefs and Matt Cassel had agreed on a long-term contract.

Over the weekend, Lombardi included this blurb in his column:

"Based on my conversations, the Kansas City Chiefs draft has many league executives curious – not about the quality of the draft, as that will take some time to determine, but about the character element, a signature and requirement of the building of the New England Patriots. The fact that the Chiefs selected some players with off-the-field issues has executives asking me, how does character fit in Kansas City now?"

Don't you love the way that's phrased? Just think – Pioli has so much influence around the league that Kansas City is right on the tip of everyone's tongue. Executives from other teams can't help talking about the Chiefs, openly wondering what the team is doing and what Pioli's methods are.

But in that brief snippet, Lombardi makes two interesting claims - that more than one of the Chiefs' rookies have "off-the-field issues," and that avoiding such players was a major component in building the New England dynasty.

Unfortunately, because Lombardi only spoke in the vaguest possible terms, we can't examine that first claim. He didn't bother to mention who those questionable characters are or what issues they may have been involved in.

However, those blanks were filled in on Monday by fellow NFP writer Matt Bowen. In a column questioning whether Pioli is ignoring the character element, Bowen unloaded some truly damning criticisms against the Chiefs' rookies.

Prepare yourself – this is rough stuff!

According to the lone source Bowen cited, Chiefs running back Javarris Williams apparently "rubbed some people wrong on the recruiting trail." Tight end Jake O'Connell supposedly "never took to coaching" and "always relied on his atheltic (sic) ability and never put in the work on the practice field." Then there's 175-pound wide receiver Quinten Lawrence, who allegedly has a "questionable work ethic in the weight room."

Sounds like quite a dubious collection of rogue elements, doesn't it? It's worth noting that Magee wasn't mentioned, and – quite clearly – if there was even the slightest red flag on his record, it would have been included to beef up the case.

It's also worth noting that Bowen declined to point out which rounds those players were taken in. They were sixth and seventh-round picks. Perhaps it didn't seem prudent to acknowledge they were players who will struggle just to make the final roster.

Bowen summed up the selection of Washington and those three late-round picks by stating "the Chiefs and Pioli shouldn't be compared with the Bengals when it comes to their current draft class – yet."

Perhaps when Lawrence's weight room habits cause him to develop a rap sheet as extensive as Chris Henry's, we'll finally be able to make that comparison?

The absurdity of this speaks for itself. I'd describe how laughable it is to mention something like Lawrence's weight-room work ethic in the same breath as the criminal conduct the Bengals have become known for, but it's really not that funny. The association is terribly insulting to Williams, O'Connell and Lawrence. Their reputations have been tarnished.

All of this character talk is being raised in an attempt by NFP to prove a larger point – that Pioli is turning his back on what he did with the Patriots. In fact, Bowen stated outright in his column that "I don't remember an instance in New England when Pioli took a player that has (sic) some red flags attached to his name."

What about Randy Moss? Bowen acknowledged Moss as an exception to the rule, so we'll set him aside. But what about Corey Dillon? A known malcontent and alleged "locker room cancer" during his days with Cincinnati, the Patriots didn't just acquire Dillon, they traded a second-round pick for him in 2004. However, the same rationale Bowen used to dismiss Moss – that the Patriots told him "shape up or you're out" – can probably be applied to Dillon, so we'll set him aside, too.

How about Rodney Harrison? Widely considered one of the dirtiest players in football, Harrison was signed by the Patriots as a free agent in 2003. But other than a little HGH use, Harrison hasn't run into any off-field problems, so maybe he shouldn't count, either.

On the topic of performance-enhancing drugs, John Welbourn also had a brief stay in New England. Despite being suspended twice for steroid use during his time in Kansas City, the Patriots picked up Welbourn after the Chiefs cut him in 2008, though he was released before the season began.

Of course, all of these examples involve veterans. What we're really talking about here are rookies, so let's examine that issue.

In 2000 the Patriots used a third-round pick on running back J.R. Redmond, who was involved in a rather strange situation at Arizona State. Due to the overly restrictive NCAA rules against athletes receiving improper benefits, Redmond learned that his use of a female athletic department employee's cell phone might have opened him up to sanctions.

In an attempt to avoid punishment, Redmond and the woman flew to Vegas and got married, creating a loophole he hoped would protect him. An NCAA investigation quickly followed, the woman was fired from her job, and accusations surfaced that she may have been doing Redman's class assignments for him. The two divorced shortly after the wedding and Redmond ended up serving a one-game suspension.

While he may not have been guilty of anything more than extremely bad judgment, Redmond's issues far outweigh anything cited about Williams, Lawrence, and O'Connell.

In 2002 the Patriots used a seventh-round pick on running back Antwoine Womack. During his time at Virgina, Womack was convicted twice on misdemeanor assault charges, with one case involving battery against a female. Washington's two-game suspension at Ohio State pales in comparison to Womack's baggage.

More recently, the Patriots used their first-round pick in 2007 on safety Brandon Meriweather. While attending college at Miami, Meriweather was involved in two notable incidents. The first was a shooting in which Meriweather drew his gun and fired at an assailant in self-defense. The second occured during an on-field brawl between Miami and Florida International in which Meriweather attempted to stomp on fallen FIU players. He was suspended.

We can also point to the recent 2009 draft – the same one Pioli and the Chiefs are being questioned over – in which the Patriots used a third-round pick on North Carolina receiver Brandon Tate. Tate failed his drug test at the NFL combine, reportedly testing positive for marijuana. Why isn't Belichick being questioned for abandoning his principles?

Incidentally, there have also been a handful of players drafted by the Patriots during the Pioli/Belichick era – names like Kenyatta Jones, Dexter Reid, Nick Kaczur, Willie Andrews – who have run afoul of the law in the years since they came into the league. One can only assume that a few of those players had a red flag or two along the way.

So where does that leave us? It seems that not only is the NFP citing incredibly flimsy evidence in support of their point, the case they're attempting to argue isn't even accurate. The Patriots didn't deal exclusively in eagle scouts and choir boys during Pioli's tenure. Apart from Washington, there appears to be no valid reason to consider any of the Chiefs' rookies a character risk.

Yet the writers at NFP would have us believe that these aren't merely their own theories – you see, they're talking to other people in the league who are raising these same questions. In light of the evidence presented here, does that even sound the slightest bit believable?

Theories have already popped up about why the NFP may have a bone to pick with Pioli, with the denial over Cassel's contract leading the way. But the point here is that until more credible evidence surfaces to back any of these claims, the notion of the Chiefs drafting problem players appears to be completely overblown.

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