The question for me isn't whether the Bills should cut Adolphus Washington, but what they would do if it were Marcell Dareus, LeSean McCoy, or some other prized member of the roster who had who had run afoul of the law?
I understand the calls for Sean McDermott to take a strong stand against Washington, who has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of improperly carrying a concealed weapon in a parking lot outside a water park in Cincinnati on July 7.
McDermott has promised to be tough on character and discipline as the Bills' new head coach. Washington, a second-year defensive tackle, is accused of displaying a handgun within a few feet of police without informing them beforehand.
At the very least, it seems Washington was guilty of poor judgment. He had a permit for the firearm, but he left it in a three-wheeled Polaris Slingshot with an open top. Handling a gun in close proximity to police officers is dubious and potentially catastrophic behavior, as recent events have shown.
But stupidity doesn't qualify as a firing offense. If so, Dareus would be long gone. His list of indiscretions is well-chronicled: Suspended for lateness in back-to-back games; multiple suspensions for pot smoking; crashing his car while street racing one day after vowing, in the aftermath of a marijuana arrest, to be on his best behavior.
Presumably, McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane would send a powerful message by cutting Washington. But they should be careful. They could score points with the fans with such a bold move, but what would the message be to the team? That some players are more expendable than others?
All new coaches like to prove they're in charge. It's not that easy. Ask Gregg Williams, the last hotshot defensive coordinator who came to Buffalo talking tough through his bullhorn. Players don't fall into line so easily nowadays; they can see through an obvious attempt to play the tough guy.
It's not how McDermott looks in public that counts. It's how he looks in his own locker room. Players respect consistency. They're not dummies. If Washington gets whacked, they'll know it was because he was a marginal player, a second-year guy who lost playing time late in his rookie year.
This isn't Washington's first brush with the law, I know. He was charged with soliciting a prostitute at Ohio State two years ago and was suspended for the Fiesta Bowl. The Bills could release him and justify it as unloading a player who was on thin ice and should have bent over backwards to avoid further trouble.
Fine. But despite the outsized faith placed in him by a desperate fan base, McDermott is new to the job. His main job is winning the trust of his players. What example would it set to cut Washington? In recent years, the Bills became a haven for young players who made the most of second chances.
This is McDermott's first head coaching gig. Naturally, he wants to set his own standards. He's not responsible for any permissive leadership that preceded him. He wasn't the one who gave Dareus all those chances.
But the Pegulas did. They gave Dareus a $100 million contract extension, despite his repeated indiscretions, and got mainly grief in return. They gave second chances to players with minor offenses in their backgrounds. A team's policy for discipline should emanate from ownership. It can't fluctuate based on who is coaching the team.
I'm not saying the Bills shouldn't have a high standard for behavior. But cutting Washington after his arrest in Cincinnati would be a gross overreaction, a transparent attempt to show there's a new sheriff in town. And I wonder, would they have done the same thing if it were one of Beane's draft picks, rather than one of Doug Whaley's reaches?
There's also the nature of the arrest, which involved a young black male, a handgun and the police. These are hot-button issues in our country today, and not to be taken lightly. However unwise Washington's behavior, I suspect there's no lack of sympathy for him in an NFL locker room that's predominantly black.
I watched the video of Washington's arrest and was amazed to hear the cop and the player concede that Washington could easily have been shot under the circumstances. It made you realize how dangerous it is out there today on our streets – for both suspects and the police.
On guns, I'm as far left as they come. Our gun culture is a global disgrace. I admire Australia and other countries with strict gun laws. It saddens me to think that a young pro athlete would feel the need to carry one – or for that matter, for concealed weapons to be legal on some American college campuses.
But I understand it. Laying down the law isn't so simple these days. McDermott is right to demand discipline, but players also crave understanding. The last thing the new coach needs is for his players to believe he doesn't get it.