Thursday, December 28, 2006

Some Scapegoat!

When it comes to sports, there rarely are absolutes. Mostly it’s a matter of perspective and opinion. Mark Melnik’s reply to my recent post about Braylon Edwards (Mark's column can be found here) is well reasoned and provides an excellent diversity of perspective necessary for a forum like this. Suffice it to say, however, I couldn’t disagree more.

The problem we have in Cleveland is that we expect so much but demand so little--of our teams or our players. By minimizing or excusing the abject misconduct of jerks like Edwards and his ilk only creates the kinds of team we deserve.

With Edwards there appear to be two school of thoughts: his actions are the result of his caring so much or his actions are the result of his caring only of himself. On what basis anyone could conclude that Edwards is part of the former and not the latter eludes me, no disrespect to Mark intended.

It’s not a question of whether Edwards was simply late for work that makes him a bad guy. That happens to anyone. It’s the manner in which he goes about his business that speaks more about his character than his rather pedestrian receiving statistics, particularly when you include all of the dropped passes. His transgressions shouldn’t be glossed over, particularly since he is a second-year player with such a limited track record of NFL success.

Going to the Michigan-OSU game? In doing this he defied his teammates and, more importantly, his coaches. Technically they didn’t have veto power since he was on his free time, but where is the judgment? Not listening to his co-workers and his boss loudly says that their opinions don’t matter and that he’ll do what he wants when he wants. That’s the definition of prima donna right there. And then, of course, he was late getting back, making the whole incident an admixture of comedy, tragedy and fecklessness.

Calling out, publicly, a fellow player for a legal hit? This violates nearly every unwritten rule for being a good teammate. Moreover, it was coming from someone whose slate wasn’t exactly clean to begin with. If anyone thinks this went over well in the locker room, they haven’t been around pro athletes. It would surprise me, in fact I’d be wildly disappointed, if Brian Russell didn’t confront Edwards by shoving him up against a locker and telling him that the next time he has a problem, talk to him directly. More likely, Edwards just hid in the trainers’ room.

The bigger problem with Edwards is that his mouth runs when he has something to say about a coach or a teammate that furthers his cause but he was amazingly silent after last Sunday’s game when he turned in still another dismal performance According to a Plain Dealer report, Edwards was encouraged by the team yesterday to address the situation. He declined once more. In doing so he demonstrates that he not only has thin skin for slights, perceived or otherwise, but he’s a coward to boot.

I’m realistic enough to know that the Browns would never simply cut Edwards. He was, after all, the third pick in the draft. But it’s increasingly clear that he’s average, at best, and is never likely to live up to his draft status. More importantly, he's simply not a winner. Cutting ties as soon as possible would be addition by subtraction in many ways large and small.

Head coach Romeo Crennel yesterday reportedly likened Edwards to another loudmouth, Keyshawn Johnson, saying that after Johnson grew up he eventually became a good teammate. Really? Crennel may want to check his facts.

Everyone will recall that Johnson was a malcontent almost from day 1 in New York. Johnson put up decents stats, for sure, but essentially talked his way out of New York, something that is difficult to do. Tampa Bay took a chance on him and he repaid the favor by creating enough turmoil that the Bucs actually fired Johnson, sending him home for the last six games of the 2003 season. Johnson found himself in Dallas, which is quickly becoming the foster home for wayward receivers. Though Johnson put up decent numbers the Cowboys, they deemed him unworthy of a $1 million roster bonus and a relatively meager $1.5 million salary for 2006 and released him to make room for an even bigger headache, Terrell Owens. Eventually, he found his way to Carolina, mainly to protect the far superior Steve Smith. Johnson, who claimed he was reborn in Dallas after the fiasco in Tampa Bay is now on at least his second rebirth. Oh yea, he was fined recently for throwing his helmet during a game. Crennel's right, Johnson has turned into the model teammate.

But all this being said, it is a fair point that Edwards shouldn’t bear the full brunt of what is wrong with the offense or with the team in general and I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. The Browns are ranked 31 of 32 teams both offensively and defensively. That certainly goes well beyond one player and speaks to a team and organization deficient in both talent and direction. But I do know this: Edwards isn’t helping any, either on the field or the locker room. If he wants to be part of the solution then he should act the part. Unfortunately, like Keyshawn, he makes it clear every day and in every way that fulfilling his personal agenda remains his only priority.

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