INDIANAPOLIS – The Buffalo Bills have shown they’re not averse to taking a chance on players with character concerns.
They did it when they drafted Kiko Alonso and Duke Williams in 2013, both of whom were arrested in college for alcohol-related incidents.
They did it when they traded for Buffalo native Mike Williams, who wore out his welcome in Tampa Bay with a string of off-field problems.
Most recently, and perhaps most notably, they did it when they signed guard Richie Incognito, who’s been out of football since the bullying scandal erupted in Miami in 2013.
In each instance, General Manager Doug Whaley made a judgment call to give those players a shot.
“I’m not a person that believes if you make one mistake in this world you should be thrown away and cast out on an island,” Whaley said. “I know a lot of people judge people that way, but I know this: There has been nobody perfect in this world except one.
“So it’s a case-by-case basis, and if we feel that this guy gets it and understands and has a plan in place not to have it happen again … my past record has shown that we will” give a player an opportunity.
The Bills and 31 other teams at the NFL Scouting Combine will have to make one of those judgment calls on one of the draft’s most polarizing figures in former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
A 6-foot-5, 237-pounder, Green-Beckham is a physical match to Detroit Lions superstar Calvin Johnson. Without character concerns, he’d likely be a top-10 draft pick.
But Green-Beckham didn’t play in 2014 after getting kicked out of Missouri, and being ineligible after transferring to Oklahoma. His long list of transgressions includes multiple arrests and a troubling accusation of domestic abuse, when he forcibly entered his girlfriend’s apartment and pushed a woman down a flight of stairs.
“All the decisions I’ve made, I wish I could take it back,” Green-Beckham said. “It happened. I was young. I made mistakes. I understand that. I just want to focus on one thing and just look forward to this draft and being the best I can be.”
Green-Beckham will get his chance to sell himself to teams during the combine. Each team can conduct 15-minute interviews with up to 60 players.
“Our time is very limited with players,” San Diego Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco, a Hamburg native, said. “So most of our work on background and character and makeup is all done really in the fall, when our scouts do their visits, talking to coaches, talking to support staff, doing our background work really a lot during the football season.”
For Whaley, however, those 15-minute sessions are vitally important.
“The face-to-face meeting is very crucial for us,” he said. “We want to be able to look in a guy’s eyes and see if he’s really resolute to not make a mistake again. We want to see how when he discusses that incident, how he responds.
“Do you see remorsefulness, the understanding of ‘hey, I might have jeopardized my livelihood?’ You really want to get a feel for where that person is.”
Each team approaches how they handle players with red flags differently. In the case of Green-Beckham, there will be backlash against whichever team chooses him – especially with the NFL still reeling from the Ray Rice domestic violence case last season. That also has to be factored into the evaluation.
“We weight it really heavily,” said Jacksonville Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell, a St. Francis High School graduate, not referring to Green-Beckham in particular. “For us, there are two main points: A player has to be a culture fit or productive and ideally, we’d like to be both. Hopefully, 95 percent of our players are good culture fits and the ones that aren’t, we can develop them.
“Part of our organizational philosophy is that when a player comes to us, our goal is that whatever they are as a player or a person, they leave Jacksonville as a better person.”
Like Whaley, Caldwell believes in providing second chances.
“We’re also developing young men, too,” he said. “Just because a player may have had a situation in the past, it’s not our job to judge. We’ve all made mistakes. I’ve made mistakes. If they show remorse and are willing to admit the mistake and show humility and get better, we’re willing to work with those types of people.”