Between Lyerla’s individual talent and his personal demons, he seemed like a worthwhile reclamation project for Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson.
“Our personnel department does a great job there, and I know personally I’m excited about having Colt here,” McCarthy said following the first week of organized team activities. “You look at our history — this will be our ninth season as far as the program that we’ve established — everybody is excited about helping a young man that’s been through what he’s been through. Forget about about the football part of it. We haven’t really participated in this type of situation in the past. Colt just needs to be like everyone else. But I know people like (director of security) Doug Collins, (director of player engagement) Rob Davis, we’re excited to impact this young man’s life. Everything else will take care of itself professionally. I think this is a real credit to our program. I think this will be a real credit to the resources that we have, and this is what you’re supposed to do.”
It all sounded so noble. And maybe part of it was, though it certainly helped that Lyerla was a 250-pound tight end who could run the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds and jump vertically 39 inches. As long as Lyerla didn’t wind up on the crime blotter and embarrass the franchise, it was a no-lose proposition for the club.
“I’m so thankful and excited to be here today,” Lyerla said in May. “That’s why I’m just focusing on everything I can do to be the best player and best person and best Green Bay Packer I can be.”
Many good-hearted Packers fans turned a blind eye to all of Lyerla’s warts — and there were plenty of them. In May 2013, he went on Twitter and called the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings a “government conspiracy” and called the parents of the slain children “liars.” Unhappy with his role at Oregon, he quit the program in October. Not long thereafter, he was arrested for cocaine possession and spent time in jail.
Lyerla went undrafted and unsigned. The Packers brought him in for a tryout at the team’s postdraft rookie camp. If it was meant to be a trial balloon to gauge fan reaction before handing him a contract, the opinion was overwhelmingly in Lyerla’s favor. Fans threw their support behind him on Twitter and cheered his arrival on the practice field in May.
“I feel like I have a new home,” Lyerla said at the time. “I was kind of lost for a little while, but being here and being accepted here is truly great. ...
“I’ve spent the last six, seven months doing hard thinking and making changes and doing the right things. I think me being here today shows that I am moving in the right direction.”
It was a new — and potentially lucrative — lease on life. The Packers, with their ample resources, hoped he’d take advantage of it.
“I think that the football family could be that (positive structure) for him,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “Obviously, there are many valuable lessons that we all learn from playing professional football, but I think that this family that we have in this locker room can embrace this kid and hopefully implement a positive change in his life. I told him from Day 1, I don’t come from a similar background, my background might be entirely different from yours, but if you ever have a problem, don’t hesitate to come to me with whatever it is. I may not have the answer but we’ll find the right answer, and somewhere in that locker room is the right answer, and I think that those guys in there understand that. Everybody has their own trials and tribulations, and we can’t all travel the same path, but someone in that locker room will be able to help you. Trusting someone is a huge factor and being able to allow that person to institute a change — help you institute a change — I think is important.”
It might have made for a great feel-good story but, sadly, all of the endings have been unhappy. Of the seven tight ends on the training camp roster, Lyerla was pretty clearly the seventh-best in the group. His struggles were no surprise: His career resume at Oregon wasn’t anything special, with 34 catches in 28 career games, and his final season consisted of just three games.
On Family Night, Lyerla flashed his athleticism. One moment after he was late into the huddle, which forced the offense to take a timeout, he caught a short pass, sped upfield and attempted to hurdle a defensive back. He sustained a knee injury on the play and wound up going on injured reserve. He was later given an injury settlement — about $197,000 — and turned loose to sink or swim on his own.
Either the Packers didn’t think he was any good or they didn’t think he had changed. Or, quite likely, both. Whatever the reason, the Packers decided to wash their hands of the Great Lyerla Experiment. They are a football team, not a halfway house or baby-sitting service, after all.
On Saturday morning, he was arrested in his home state of Oregon on suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants. Sgt. Vance Stimler of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said Lyerla was suspected of being high on illegal drugs or prescription medications.
In a bizarre twist to the story, two hours before his arrest, Lyerla was trying to sell an interview to John Canzano, who writes for The Oregonian newspaper and has a show 750-AM The Game in Portland Ore.
“Once you’ve been to the bottom,” Lyerla said in May, “you see what you need to do as a person and the changes you need to make. I think that’s going to help me become a better person in the locker room.”
Too bad it didn’t.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.