Attention, young wide receivers: If you have a flair for the dramatic, a need for media attention and you frequently create headlines for things other than football accomplishments, consider these flaws that you need to correct. These qualities do not pay any longer.
Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens and Plaxico Burress highlighted the era of the diva wide receiver in the NFL. They have not enjoyed the respective twilights of their careers.
Chad Johnson was released on Sunday night, a very short time after he'd been arrested for allegedly head-butting his new bride. Whether or not he'll find a job again in the NFL is unclear, but at the very least, it's no sure thing. When the Dolphins signed him back in June, it was for $925,000 ‒ the league's veteran minimum ‒ with no guaranteed money. It's not like there was a bidding war for his services, even before the arrest.
And now Chad, post-arrest, will not find himself a hot commodity. Not after his disastrous stint with the Patriots, and his super-brief time as a Dolphin. It seemed like the Dolphins were happy enough with his ability, as he topped their depth chart at wide receiver and started their first preseason game.
And even though he didn't look great in that game, there wasn't any danger of him being cut due to his performance. Add in an off-the-field problem, though, and some headaches that the Dolphins didn't want to deal with, and he became expendable.
You can argue that if he was a better receiver, the Dolphins might not have been so quick to cut him. You'd probably be right. But when a guy is dragging that much off-the-field baggage with him, the point where his ability can't outweigh his baggage comes much, much sooner.
To land a roster spot in the NFL, a diva wide receiver not only has to outplay his competition, he's got to outplay his own reputation. That's easier when they're young. When the miles start to pile up, though, it becomes harder and harder to do.
As for the other two legendary prima donnas, Terrell Owens is currently a Seahawk, but he had to pretty much beg for the opportunity. He'll also be gone at the first hint of any indiscretion. Plaxico Burress is also begging for a job, and it doesn't look like a recent look from the Patriots is going to pan out. Teams don't think he's worth the trouble. He can't outplay his reputation.
Meanwhile, other guys don't have these problems. You don't hear about Reggie Wayne, Donald Driver or Anquan Boldin ‒ all on the wrong side of 30, but all having exhibited an ability to do their job quietly and without distraction ‒ having trouble finding a job. Their teams still find them to be worth the trouble.
I like to think that there's still room in the game for personalities to shine through and individuality to be celebrated. I believe that's still possible. A player has to find a way to do it in a way that won't be considered a distraction, though, because being a distraction will shorten careers. It will take money out of pockets.
We're seeing it happen right now, with the number one (Owens), number six (Johnson), and number 12 (Burress) active NFL leaders in receiving yards. They'd all have more job security and bigger contracts if they'd gone through their careers quietly and without drawing so much attention to themselves.
It's a question worth asking yourself if you're Stevie Johnson, DeSean Jackson or Mike Wallace ‒ young guys who haven't necessarily gone down the wrong path, but have shown some diva tendencies. They'll have to decide which way they want to go.
I'd tell them to look at Chad. Look at Terrell Owens and look at Plaxico Burress. Then look at Reggie Wayne, Donald Driver and Anquan Boldin. It's a choice. If being the squeaky wheel is worth more to you than a few more years at the end of your career, then by all means, squeak away. Criticize your teammates, get yourself arrested, do some sit-ups in your driveway.
If you'd rather have your job a little longer, though, and maybe get one or two more worthwhile contracts in your last years in the NFL, you might want to put the brakes on any me-first behavior. Learn from the examples set by those who came before you ‒ the positive examples and the other ones.
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