Off-field topics have been prevalent following the NFL draft in Chicago. Here, I tackle criticism of the Bucs' decision to not interview Jameis Winston's accuser, Seattle's vetting of Frank Clark and my own mistake regarding Randy Gregory
Before I get to your mail this week, three topics in the wake of the draft that have gotten attention in the three days since the 256th pick was made:
The sexual assault case involving Jameis Winston. When I asked Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht about it, I said I was uneasy that the Bucs interviewed more than 75 people in the investigation but not the women who charged Winston with sexual assault. One could argue the Bucs wanted the investigation to come out clean for Winston. Licht said, “That’s not the case. We are not talking about this now … but we read the depositions. We knew what she was going to say. This was a thorough investigation. We were not going to mistake charisma for character.”
The reaction to that part of my story has been mostly vituperative toward Licht, which is understandable. Many believe the woman in the case, Erica Kinsman, should have been heard by the Bucs. Licht knew he was going to be criticized—either by people who thought he should take the squeaky-clean Marcus Mariota, or by people who thought he shouldn’t touch Winston because of the off-field issues. Licht, as the GM of the team with the first pick in the draft, has to know that whatever decision he makes—except in a year when there’s an absolute sure thing at number one—is going to be roundly second-guessed.
This is what I think about the pick:
Given the choice, I would have taken Mariota. He is safer off the field, and he makes fewer mistakes on the field. With the prospect of playing behind a bad offensive line—getting better, certainly, after adding two second-rounders as prospective starters—I’d rather have a more mobile quarterback. But it’s certainly close. There’s one other point that piqued my interest, from my research in Tampa over the weekend. Did you see it? On his March visit to the Bucs’ facility, Winston told offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, “I’m not afraid to make any throw.” Koetter told him maybe he ought to be—after his 18 interceptions in 2014.
But—and it is a big one—this is hardly a science. It is a gut feeling. Good for Licht to feel strongly about a pick and put his job on the line for Winston. Licht very could be right, and he certainly knows more about analyzing quarterbacks than I do.
The one other point I feel strongly about is this: Winston never has been found to have sexually assaulted Erica Kinsman. Not by two legal investigations, and not in a Florida State probe of whether Winston violated the student code of conduct in his contact with Kinsman. The university retained retired state Supreme Court Justice Major Harding to find whether Winston was culpable in the case. Twice before Harding took the case, the legal system in Florida considered whether Winston should be brought to trial. Twice there was not sufficient evidence. When the case was put in front of Harding, the burden of proof at the university level was not as stringent as in the court cases. Harding did not find enough proof to support the sexual-assault charge against Winston. “This was a complex case, and I worked hard to make sure both parties had a full and fair opportunity to present information. In sum, the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you are responsible for any of the charged violations of the Code,” Harding said in his ruling. “In light of all the circumstances, I do not find the credibility of one story substantially stronger than that of the other. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses.”
This is a she-said, he-said case. We don’t know what happened between Winston and Kinsman. But I must say this: If three times a neutral party was asked to adjudicate this case, and if three times the neutral party came back without enough evidence to charge Winston to bring the case to trial, at some point Winston has to be allowed to live his life and pursue his livelihood.
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The Seahawks have to answer some questions about drafting Frank Clark. The Michigan defensive end, kicked off his team last season, was the Seahawks’ first pick in the draft, the 63rd overall. Seattle officials said they investigated a case in which Clark was reported to have struck a girlfriend in a hotel in Ohio last fall, but admitted they interviewed Clark and no witness nor the alleged victim in the case. And Tuesday, the Seattle Times interviewed a woman who said she was in a room next to Clark’s. The woman, Kristie Colie, said she heard a disturbance in the room and knocked on the door to see what was the matter. Clark's then-girlfriend, Diamond Hurt, “looked unconscious,” Colie told Times reporter Geoff Baker. “She looked like she was knocked out.”
In April, Clark agreed to a plea deal in the case after being charged with first-degree domestic violence. He was fined $250 and received no sentence of jail time, and will not have a domestic-violence conviction on his record, according to the Times.
With the increased attention—rightfully so—on domestic violence, the Seahawks’ pick of Clark will go under the media and league microscope now. As it should. Seattle officials have to address this, quickly, and with the proper seriousness.
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The Cowboys will look to find a comprehensive program to help Randy Gregory with his marijuana and mental-illness issues. Talking to Dallas COO Stephen Jones on Sunday night in the wake of former top prospect pass-rusher Randy Gregory being drafted 60th instead of in the top 10, I got the distinct impression the team would look to put Gregory in a program to handle everything that's made living a normal life difficult for him. The Cowboys want to help Gregory long-term, on and off the field.
I made the error Monday in my column of commingling the marijuana and mental-health issues, and saying Gregory fell down draft boards around the league because of “character flaws.” That was a lazy and unintelligent statement by me, and I fixed it in my column after being called out by quite a few people. No excuse for it; no one to blame but me. Your responses to it:
From Patrick of Charleston, S.C.: “As someone who has a wonderful brother who is bipolar and works hard everyday to be a productive member of society, I take exception to you referring to this as a ‘character flaw’ in your latest column. My brother has an illness as does anyone else that suffers from it. Your words have power and as someone who reads your column almost every week, I appreciate that you write under a deadline and are trying to share many stories. Please be more careful in the future when discussing individuals who may be suffering from a mental illness or disability.”
From Jurjen of Rotterdam, The Netherlands: “I have to say that your conclusions regarding Randy Gregory's ‘issues’ sound very ignorant to me. Calling mental health concerns (possible bipolar issues and/or depressions) ‘character flaws’ is insulting to every person out there dealing with these kind of issues. It is not a flaw if you have these issues. It is not a choice and does not make you a lesser person.”
From Brian of Chicago: “Come on Peter. Being depressed, anxious or suffering from bipolar or some other personality disorder are not ‘character flaws.’ And I don’t want to hear that testing positive for pot at the combine is what you were referring to. If he was suffering badly enough and the only thing that he thought could calm him down (such as alleviating a panic or other form of attack) was pot, then I still do not believe that is a ‘character flaw.’ ”
Now onto your other email of the week:
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SCOUTING DEPARTMENT OVERHAULS. I’d be interested in finding out more about how teams handle the scouting department shuffles that seem to happen after the draft. While I understand new GMs want their own people in house, how does this affect their evaluation of the work from people who are soon to be leaving the organization? Might be interesting to share with readers who wonder what is going on when they find out a scouting department has been dumped just days after a draft.
—Dan, Corvallis, Ore.
Many people have wondered why it is that coaches get fired after the season, yet scouts get fired after the draft. The coaches have a different season than scouts; their season basically is from August until early May. I have seen some teams block the movement of scouts because the teams are afraid of surrendering institutional knowledge before the draft. When it happens after the draft, teams don’t really view that as any sort of disadvantage. On some teams, and I’ll use Cincinnati as an example, coaches are more involved in scouting than any other teams. And so if you take a scout from Cincy, it’s not going to hurt the Bengals as much as it would for teams where the scouts do all of the personnel evaluation out in the field. But at the end of the process, I just don’t believe it's a huge disadvantage if you lose several scouts in May and have to replace them before the scouting season starts in August. It’s really the same as a shakeup on a coaching staff.
THE FUTURE OF THE 49ERS. Longtime 49ers fan and reader. I disagree with your conclusion that no one plays the futures better than Trent Baalke. I agree that stockpiling draft picks is important, but the “futures” include drafting players with impact and Baalke has not had the same success as his predecessor and current Washington GM Scot McCloughan. I think he also miscalculated the future by letting Jim Harbaugh go. Pride may come before the fall.
—Richard, Port St. Lucie, Fla.
My comment was about putting the Niners in the best position for future drafts, and I think Baalke clearly has done that. I’m fine faulting him for the Harbaugh move, which I have done. And I’m fine with being critical of some of his high draft choices who have made zero impact. All of that is fair. But 12 months before next year’s draft, the 49ers have nine picks in seven rounds. That’s putting your team in good position for the future. The hard part, obviously, is making the right picks.
JIM KELLY OVATION. Love the column. Even on a beautiful 80-degree day in Philadelphia, I bring lunch back to my office to read it. I am surprised you did not mention the overwhelming reaction the fans gave Jim Kelly when he announced the Bills pick. It was one of the best moments of the draft.
Very good point. I should have. I saw it in the highlights Friday night after the draft—I was not watching most of rounds 2 and 3 live—and thought about what a touching moment it was. Thanks for writing and reminding me of a moment that deserves attention.
ST. LOUIS OMISSION. As a paranoid St. Louis Rams fan, I found it interesting that you did not list St. Louis in the list of cities that are less than a six-hour drive away from Chicago. I know people from the Northeast are bad when it comes to Midwest geography, but we do have a NFL team (at least for another year).
—Brian, St. Louis
My fault. There is no hidden meaning in that. Just simply an error of omission by me.
PEEVED PANTHERS FAN. Those of us in Carolina who keep it real about how a team should go about bringing itself out of salary cap oblivion are big fans of Dave Gettleman. I encourage you to ask him all the things you “couldn’t figure out.” Or you could simply Google the Q&A after his first-round and second-round picks. If you have two guys at the top of your draft board and you want them, then you ignore what everyone else thinks and you figure it out. And if you know all nine of your draft picks aren’t going to make the team, why not trade a few of them to move up and get who you want? I think it’s funny how everyone applauds the Jets for drafting Leonard Williams, with two other guys so good at his position, but when the Panthers try to make their great LB corps even better, they get panned for reaching. Gettleman and Ron Rivera will explain it all to you.
I spoke to several personnel men and front-office executives over the weekend. Without question, Carolina’s moves were the most befuddling. As I clearly stated in my item about the Carolina picks:
None of these things can be judged for at least a couple of years, of course, so Gettleman, who has done a good job being patient in his Carolina rebuild, deserves time to see if he’s right and everyone else is wrong.
If you want to read my opinion, sometimes it's going to be negative. Or my opinions might cast doubt on what a team did. I’m dubious about Carolina's draft. And maybe I’ll be proven wrong. That’s why they play the games.
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