Someone asked Marcell Dareus after Wednesday’s opening spring practice if he considered his recent felony arrests a “wake-up call.”
“If you put it in those terms,” Dareus responded. “Wake-up call? Of course.”
Sorry, I’m not buying it. Dareus already had his wake-up call, and he missed it. The alarm was ringing on full volume and the Bills’ defensive end tossed the clock out the window, rolled over and went back to sleep.
Wake-up call? Dareus was suspended on consecutive weeks last season for breaking team rules. Chronic tardiness, to be precise. Coach Doug Marrone sat him for a quarter of the Bills’ penultimate game against Miami. A week later, Marrone sat Dareus for the first half of the finale at New England.
You would think that would be sufficient wake-up for an NFL player entering a critical contract year. Dareus should have been walking around with toothpicks in both eyes, wide awake to the fact that he was putting his precious and lucrative football career in jeopardy.
But early this month, Dareus was stopped for speeding in his native Alabama and charged with two felonies: possession of a controlled substance, believed to be synthetic marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Speaking publicly for the first time since his arrest, Dareus said his bosses at One Bills Drive had recently sat him down for a talk, and he admitted he had some maturing to do.
“Things happen,” he said. “Young. Dumb. You’ve got to correct it and move forward.”
That wasn’t exactly a rousing mea culpa. “Things happen” is the standard reflex response by misbehaving athletes nowadays. They make it seem like something that happened TO them, rather than some personal difficulty they brought upon themselves.
Dareus offered faint contrition, but he made himself out to be a victim, too. He said the arrest isn’t weighing on him at all, even though he faces the possibility of a four-game suspension from the NFL. Dareus is still awaiting a court date on the charges in Alabama. “It’s not what you guys think,” Dareus said. “It is what it is. The media put things out there the wrong way. But at the same time, I got to continue to do what I have to do, focus in and handle my business. There’s not much for me to linger on. I have a job here and I have to do the best job I can to represent the Buffalo Bills and the organization.”
Dareus couldn’t say how the media had misrepresented the facts of his arrest. He made repeated references to text messages he had received, which leads me to believe his friends are giving him updates on all the horrible things being said in the media.
Later, he told me the media had reported only one side of the story: The police’s side. That’s how police reporting tends to work after the initial arrest. Dareus was arrested in the first days of a national crackdown on synthetic drugs that was especially intense in Alabama.
Look, I know it’s not unheard of for a young black man to be the object of overzealous police work in the Deep South. That’s beside the point. The point is that Dareus was on very thin ice after last season’s indiscretions and should be steering clear of any potentially compromising situations.
“It’s behind me,” Dareus insisted Wednesday. “I mean, I’m not a trouble guy. I don’t cause any problems nowhere. I’m not a loud guy. I don’t do anything, just have fun and be myself. If things happen, things happen.”
He hasn’t shot anyone, or beaten up his girlfriend, or been guilty of the more egregious offenses that NFL players have committed in recent years. But ask any football coach if being late and getting arrested with drugs in your vehicle qualify as trouble.
Dareus isn’t a bad guy. He’s been an affable teddy bear in his time with the Bills, if a little touchy on the tough issues. He’s suffered a lot of family tragedy, including the murder of a brother two years ago. But he’s behaved like an irresponsible, overgrown adolescent. On Wednesday, he kept saying he wants to have fun, as if it were that simple.
The truth is, this issue isn’t behind him. The NFL could suspend him – even if he isn’t found guilty. They could nail him under the personal conduct policy, which says “you are held to a higher standard and expected to conduct yourself in a way that is responsible.”
The key phrase is “higher standard.” Fair or not, pro athletes are expected to be models of behavior. It’s a tough standard for young guys who have been coddled their entire lives, but the financial reward is substantial.
Dareus, who was added to the Pro Bowl last year, has a base salary of more than $3 million, and he could be looking at a huge contract extension in the coming year. The Bills picked up the option on the fifth year of his original deal shortly before his arrest.
Before giving him a pay day in the $50 million range, they need to know if Dareus is, to use his own words, “on the straight and narrow.”
There’s a lot at stake this season, for Dareus and the Bills. Doug Whaley has essentially guaranteed they’ll be a playoff contender. They need their top players in top physical shape and in the right frame of mind. They don’t have time to wait for Dareus to become an adult.
“We talk,” said Kyle Williams, the team’s other starting defensive tackle and responsible senior citizen. “What’s said between him and I will stay that way. But we talk a lot. I know Marcell wants to do the right thing, and I think he will.”
Dareus said he’s not going to mess up any longer. He’s ready to focus on football and have fun and help the Bills make the playoffs. No more young and dumb. And no more wake-up calls, either.
It’s not waking up that’s needed here, but growing up. It’s time.