The Ray Rice debacle from 2014 sparked an overreaction at 345 Park Avenue, both as it relates to the discipline of players currently in the league and the handling of players not yet in the league. Although the league can’t and won’t discipline players for things occurring before they become employees of NFL teams, the overall overreaction included a nonsensical barrier on the ability of certain players to attend the Scouting Combine.
The rule that bars players with a history of violent crimes (no matter how insignificant) ostensibly hurts the players. It actually makes it harder for the teams that are combining resources (ergo the name of the event) to properly evaluate the player from a health, performance, and personal interaction standpoint.
In 2017, Lions G.M. Bob Quinn wisely spoke out about the rule, as it applied at the time to running back Joe Mixon. Barring Mixon from the Scouting Combine actually helped Mixon avoid the gauntlet of tough questions that comes from a series of 15-minute interviews and other interactions, along with depriving teams of the apples-to-apples comparisons that come from the 300-plus-player event.
The rule has fallen under scrutiny most recently in connection with former Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylen Ferguson. Agent Peter Schaffer tells PFT that Ferguson received his invitation to the Scouting Combine roughly six weeks ago, at a time when teams were well aware of a 2015 fight at a McDonald’s that resulted in a $189 fine. According to Schaffer, teams asked Ferguson about the incident at the Senior Bowl; the league claims, however, that it just became aware of it recently. Also, Schaffer said that the league leaked the news of the rescinded invitation to its in-house media conglomerate before informing Ferguson that he’ll be prevented from attending.
Making the rule make less sense is the reality that Ferguson will still go through the pre-draft process. Teams will now have to fly him from city to city to evaluate his medical condition, to evaluate his ability to engage in the various events of the Underwear Olympics, and to interact with scouts and coaches while answering tough questions.
“As opposed to penalizing and vilifying the future players of the league, we would hope the league would allow Jaylon and other similarly situated players the opportunity to prove to potential employers that they are remorseful, have learned from their mistakes, accepted responsibility, want to be good role models and are better people now for it,” Schaffer wrote in an email to PFT. “No person is perfect, and people are entitled to second chances and opportunities and one would hope the NFL as a leader in the industry, open minded and a diverse league and business would want to see the best in their players, educate them and help them mature, learn and be better people.”
He’s right. Players who have had off-field issues will still be drafted, if their talent justifies it. Mixon became a second-round pick, for example. Other players not invited to the Combine will be drafted, if teams regard them as worthy of a selection.
Whether the player is invited to the Scouting Combine or not, teams will still put in the effort to come to a conclusion as to whether, and when, a player should be drafted. Keeping the player away from the Scouting Combine may appear to punish the player, but it actually punishes the teams that are trying to properly evaluate the player.
Unless and until the league is willing to also ban players with a history of violence from the draft or from the league entirely, a Scouting Combine ban makes no sense, and the league should end it. Given that the week began with the Browns signing Kareem Hunt, maybe the week should end with a fresh look at the wisdom of what ultimately was and is a misguided P.R. effort from the league.