Not sure if you've read about the DeSean Jackson controversy, so let me catch you up to speed. The Eagles recently cut him, and instead of just blaming it on his salary, their front office assumed a defensive posture. Then they more or less implied that Jackson was cut because he's a gang member. Of course, Jackson says that's not true, defending himself in a recently aired Stephen A. Smith interview.
“No, it’s not true. Honestly, where I was raised and where I grew up at, that’s the product of an environment. … The things I witnessed, the things I saw on a daily basis, kind of surrounded me around that. Do I know friends that are out there involved? Yes. I try to, you know, stay away from them. I don’t try to intervene and do things of any nature that has anything to do with negative activities, but I’m definitely aware and know certain gang members."
The Eagles aren't unique here. Rough and tumble pasts are part and parcel of the NFL. Even if you move on to bigger and better things, your past may follow you, with or without your permission. There's no avoiding that. But here's the real dilemma: as an NFL team, how do you handle players like Jackson?
A logical first step is to keep them off your team. The Falcons are infamous for doing just that. The risk is that you forgo talent in an effort to forgo controversy. If you think that's a worthwhile tradeoff, you're not wrong. It isn't always that easy though, because these choices aren't made in a vacuum. They're made in high stakes circumstances. Players try to downplay or cover up anything that affects their value. Teams poke and prod, but it's not always apparent which players will be problematic.
Why is this relevant? Because with the draft only a month away, the Falcons are making hard decisions. They're trying their hardest to not be the Eagles. They're trying their hardest to avoid controversy, the sort of controversy that players like Jackson, Adam Jones, Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress, Chris Henry, Ben Roethlisberger, etc. bring to the table. You can love what a particular player does on the field, but you need to be mindful of what his direct associates do off of it. It's not an easy balance to strike, to be sure, but that's the front office's job. Figure it out before it become a problem, not after.
[knock on wood] The Falcons have largely kept this sort of controversy out of Flowery Branch. If anything, I'm hoping they take note of what the Eagles did and are continuing to do wrong. Addressing situations like these before problems arise is best, but that's not always possible. When it's impossible, sever ties in a way that doesn't invite accusations of racism. Be smart, that's all any of us can really ask for.