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NFL's off-field issues are back with a vengeance this offseason


I'm not sure what exactly has kept the dots from being connected yet in terms of the media or the public's collective attention spans, but has anyone out there noticed that the NFL's personal conduct problems are back with a vengeance this offseason?

As storylines go, the league's personal-conduct crackdown is so 2007. That's when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell focused like a laser on the issue, and that's when everyone in and outside of the league -- other than those suspended -- applauded his new get-tough measures.

But there hasn't been too much hue and cry this year, and you can't say it's because the problems have been minimized. While we've all fixated on whether there's any more to come from Spygate, the looming CBA showdown, or if Pacman Jones will make it back onto the field in 2008, the off-field image of the NFL player has taken a whole new round of body blows.

Just Wednesday morning, New England offensive tackle Nick Kaczur provided the NFL with its most recent embarrassing headline, as news broke that he was arrested in April for illegally purchasing the prescription painkiller OxyContin. Kaczur, the Patriots starter at right tackle, reportedly wound up wearing a wire for federal agents in a sting operation that resulted in the indictment of his alleged drug supplier.

Kaczur's legal trouble only continues a disturbing trend: When it comes to the NFL's plague of personal conduct issues, there is no offseason. I don't know where the tipping point is any more, but we've had a little bit of everything on the league's rap sheet since the last meaningful game was played in early February.

• Chicago running back Cedric Benson was pepper-sprayed and arrested on a Texas lake after being cited for boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest.

• Indianapolis receiver Marvin Harrison has been questioned in connection with a shooting in Philadelphia, which reportedly involved a gun he owned.

• New Orleans defensive end Charles Grant has been indicted on a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

• Minnesota offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie was charged with felony aggravated battery in a Miami-area bar fight.

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• And Seattle All-Pro middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, fresh off signing a new, $42 million contract, hung up a very big number on a breathalyzer test that preceded his being charged with driving under the influence.

And there's more, of course. Always so much more. Pittsburgh receiver Cedrick Wilson and Steelers linebacker James Harrison were charged with hitting women, the same offense Cincinnati linebacker Ahmad Brooks and then-Oakland cornerback Fabian Washington incurred. Bengals receiver Chris Henry -- who probably owns his own monogrammed orange jumpsuit by now -- was cut by the team after his fifth arrest since 2005, this one for allegedly punching an 18-year-old man in the face and breaking his car window with a beer bottle. At Henry's hearing, the judge described Henry as a "one-man crime wave," which probably isn't a label he'll rush out and try to trademark.

Bills receiver/return man Roscoe Parris picked up a DUI charge in February. Colts running back Kenton Keith was arrested for refusing to leave a nightclub parking lot and public intoxication. Browns cornerback Kenny Wright was charged with unlawful restraint, evading arrest and marijuana possession. Meanwhile back in Buffalo, police are said to be growing impatient with Bills running back Marshawn Lynch, who had yet to meet with them three days after his vehicle was involved in an early morning hit-and-run accident.

And you know things are tough on the personal conduct front in the NFL when even the guy who suited up as the Steelers' "Steely McBeam" mascot at Heinz Field gets arrested -- and hastily fired by the team -- for driving drunk.

I realize I'm probably leaving someone out of my NFL offseason rap sheet rundown, so please, no cards or letters. It's hard to keep up with everything that goes down on this particular NFL front.

The league can't be accused of totally ignoring the issue this year. Goodell still cares as much about it as he did in 2007. After all, two weeks ago at the NFL's one-day spring owners meeting in Atlanta, he took a step to strengthen the personal conduct policy, announcing that he would begin fining teams for players' off-field violations. The new policy began in June, and given that we've got about seven weeks remaining until training camps roar to life, I expect Goodell will be handing out some player suspensions and some monetary penalties to a few owners in the last half of 2008.

"We want to continue to emphasize personal conduct and personal responsibility," Goodell said. "One way to do it is to hold teams responsible for the conduct of their players."

Making teams more directly responsible for the conduct of their players might stem the tide of arrests somewhat, but I doubt it'll resemble anything close to a cure-all. Truth be known, May, June and July are the time of year that NFL coaches and club executives dread the most, holding their breath that their players don't make the headlines for any of the wrong reasons. When players have too much down time on their hands, and there's not enough structure to their days and nights, that's when trouble has the best chance of surfacing.

That could mean that the worst headlines are still to come, and we remain in the midst of the busiest season of all in regards to NFL player misconduct. Goodell's get-tough measures last season certainly helped shed some much-needed light on a nagging problem that the league had back-burnered for far too long. But apparently not everyone got the message from the new sheriff in town, because 2008 has already seen more than its share of misdeeds by NFL players. Not to mention the occasional mascot.

Here's hoping the next time we all have reason to talk about Steely McBeam, we're just debating his on-field performance.