On Forbes.com, during the annoying sponsorship page that requires to you to "click here" before acquiring the site you intended, there was a small blip at the top called "Thought of the Day". The thought was written by Henry Adams saying, "Morality is a private and costly luxury." Interesting -- and indirect -- thought considering the plight the NFL is enduring right now with league-wide conduct issues. Some people question why teams hold onto some character risk players. I think I understand why and I don't think there's any solution that would make fans or ownership happy.
I went to Forbes for one reason; to read about the annual team valuations. The valuations for 2007 is still in the wings. So let's examine 2006.
Five teams were valued at over $1 billion. The Redskins lead the list valued at $1.4 billion. They were the only team to breach the $300 million revenue barrier. The least valued team was the Minnesota Vikings at $720 million. If you add up the value, according to Forbes, all 32 NFL teams are valued at $28.8 billion. From 1997 to now, NFL teams, as a whole, saw a 211% increase in revenue. For Bengals-centric fans, Cincinnati ranked 23rd with a value of $825 million with $176 million in revenue (24th).
Owners in the NFL are typical corporate students of entrepreneurship. The sole purpose is to make money -- which means, winning. Gene Wojciechowski's latest piece agrees: "NFL teams are about making money, not necessarily about making good citizens. For some GMs and coaches, choosing between a law-abiding player with average skills or a Pro Bowl-caliber player with a criminal past isn't exactly a moral dilemma. Talent, not character, wins the day."
Take Fred Evens, former defensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins, for example. The guy played in one game last season -- which was the extent of his NFL career. He was arrested over the weekend for "refusing to leave a taxi on South Beach and for fighting with officers". The Phinsider wasn't bothered even quipping, hopefully "he's sober enough to make it through the door without incident." That's the typical reaction of a guy that was, at best, considered roster fodder.
Take the Bengals. Based on conduct issues, the Bengals have released Matthias Askew and A.J. Nicholson -- two guys that never made any significant difference in any game. They didn't release Chris Henry, Eric Steinbach, Deltha O'Neal or Johnathan Joseph -- among others.
So what's my point?
My point is that conduct is secondary to revenue -- which is a result of a talented roster. My second point is that it will never change.
Let's take Chris Henry. The guy is, in my honest opinion, the best #3 wide receiver in the NFL. He could be the #1 receiver on most teams with his speed, size and athleticism The Bengals averaged, for the entire season, 23.3 points per game in 2006. Through the three games he missed (New England, Tampa Bay, Carolina) due to team and NFL imposed suspension, the Bengals offense only scored, 41 points (13.6 points per game). When Henry plays, the Bengals points per game jumps two points (25.5). In the past two seasons, Henry has scored 15 touchdowns on 67 receptions -- that's nearly a quarter of his receptions. Chad Johnson and T.J Houshmandzadeh, in the past two seasons, have 16 touchdowns each -- with far more playing time.
Every one knows Henry's accumulated troubles. And everyone knows that Chris Henry will NOT be cut.
In a way, the NFL is in the midst of a catch-22. Teams will not cut major components because it interferes with their designs to win. Winning is, after all, the quickest guarantee towards increased revenue. At the same time, teams know the character risks they employ by running the risk of losing players from eight games to a full season.
But one thing we should never be is naive questioning why teams maintain character risks. We know why.