It's hard to say what exactly constitutes a typical week in the NFL any more, but with
What gives with the guys who play at the NFL's "diva'' position? Take the past year or so, place the storylines side by side, and it's an astounding array of collateral damage on the image front for the league's pass-catching set. It sent me to league sources this week asking one fundamental question: Is it even worth a team's trouble to have a star receiver these days, when so many of them seem to wind up as poster children for how to derail a career?
"It comes down to receiver being such an ESPN position,'' one veteran AFC personnel executive said. "It's a position based on stats. Their yards, catches, and touchdowns. That's how those guys measure themselves. That's how they get paid. It's not necessarily a team position. It can be. But it's not necessarily one. It's an individual position. So there's a selfishness that goes with that position.
"I've always said that receiver is the closest thing in the NFL to being a basketball player. It's a 'me' position. Basketball players can try to win a game by themselves. But you really can't do that much in football. It's really a different phenomena, and you get a different type of personality that plays the position.''
What an NFL club is liable to get these days from one of the game's elite receivers is the kind of unwanted attention and headaches that have become commonplace since last offseason. Just to refresh your memory, here are just some of the recent highlights of receivers in the news:
• Cleveland's Stallworth is suspended indefinitely by NFL commissioner
• Ex-Giant Burress has been charged with two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon after shooting himself in the leg with an illegal gun in a Manhattan night club last November. The Giants eventually suspended Burress, before releasing him.
• Dallas finally released the always radioactive
• Indianapolis Colts great
• Cleveland seemingly has tired of
• Denver's Marshall is the latest Bronco to try to force a trade. Unhappy with his 2009 salary, he wants out of Denver, but any potential deal might be complicated by the fact Marshall comes with some off-field baggage resulting from his involvement in two separate domestic violence incidents and various maturity issues.
• To that lineup you can add the lesser headlines created by
Sure, there's some generalization being conducted here in lumping all those situations under one unattractive umbrella. Some of those examples involve far more serious issues than mere trade requests or team chemistry problems. But overall, it's a tough case to make that there aren't more problems at receiver than any other position on the field. More and more, NFL team sources say, there's a growing realization that you shop in the elite receiver market at your own risk.
"Everything's great if you have an
"Very, very seldom does a guy change his personality in a new environment. It's happened a few times. The
In this age of three- and four-receiver sets being an almost every-down occurrence, teams rely heavily on their passing games for the majority of their offensive production. But having one elite receiver pile up so much of a team's output often brings with it the proverbial unintended consequences. It becomes a harder challenge for coaches to fold that player seamlessly into the team concept.
"In general what we've done in this league, and the receiver is a great example of this, we've made head coaches rock stars and we've made players bigger than their team,'' said former NFL quarterback
"You don't have these issues with a big-time receiver when a coach like [Carolina's]
Despite their obvious talent, diva receivers seem to move around from team to team more than ever. Owens is making his fourth NFL stop with the Bills. The next club that suits up Burress will be his third. Stallworth played with four different franchises the past four seasons. And even though they're undeniable playmakers, it's probably just a matter of time before players such as Boldin, Edwards, and Marshall relocate within the NFL.
One veteran AFC general manager I talked to said he doesn't believe it's the receiver position itself that creates divas, as much as the individual personalities of the players at the position being inclined that way. In other words, Chad Johnson is a diva who plays receiver, rather than a diva because he plays receiver.
"It is astounding all the issues there have been in recent history with receivers in this league,'' the GM said. "I think it's the players you're talking about more than the position they play, but it's a never-ending story. People always want great players, but some teams are more interested in having great players. I'm looking for great players, because you don't win without them. But you better have the right, competent head coach, and you better have character people. Quality people. It depends on how they're wired.
"How do they act outside the locker room? Do they love the spotlight? Do they work hard every day, or like in the case of a lot of guys, is it more about themselves than their work habits and the team? Those guys are dangerous, because they can ride their skills for a long time, until they get older and a little injured. Then, if someone new comes in and their numbers go down, you can have an issue with them. They can create a problem for you.''
The Super Bowl-winning Giants of 2007 were a bit of an exception to the philosophy that usually wins in the NFL, the AFC general manager said.
"You can grab a star player here or there and win with them for a while,'' he said. "But usually not for long. Look at the Giants. They knew exactly what they were getting with Plaxico Burress, and they also knew what they had to do when he became a problem. Cut him loose. After he left, it came out that they had more than 90 different [internal] incidents with him. But they got that one big season out of him, won that Super Bowl, and then he pushed it too far and they cut their ties and moved on without him.''
Burress aside, the glamour receiver contingent hasn't won a lot of rings in this NFL decade. Both the Eagles and Cowboys gambled on Owens without winning a Super Bowl, and despite his near-perfect behavior in New England,
The same goes for Pittsburgh, with its two Super Bowl wins the past four years.
"I believe you can win in this league without a star receiver,'' said the AFC personnel man. "You need playmakers at that position, not necessarily stars. You don't want to sacrifice chemistry for production. We're just not going to take a bite out of that apple.''
Dilfer was a former teammate of Edwards in Cleveland and expresses bewilderment at the recent trajectory of his career with the Browns, which by all indications appears to be at a crossroads in 2009.
"I've been around him and I know Braylon Edwards has a good family,'' Dilfer said. "He knows right and he chooses wrong. He chooses to be a diva. He thinks that's what he's supposed to be. I think that's what happens to some of these guys. Their role models are divas, and they think they have to be one too.
"In general, I'd say it's always harder to handle success than failure. With success comes huge pride, a lot of money and fame. It's harder to handle fame and everyone telling you how great you are all the time. When you shower praise and fame on these kids, and their role models are divas, they don't know where the boundaries are.''
Strong leadership from coaching is the antidote to diva-dom, Dilfer said. And while many have expressed concerns this year about the diva potential of 49ers first-round pick
"Owners need to hire a head coach who can handle these kind of players,'' said Dilfer, whose 14-year NFL career ended with the 49ers. "Coaches need to be a strong enough personality to handle that kind of dynamic. The player has to understand and be convinced he's one of 53. Crabtree has diva written all over him. All over him. But he's going to be brought into an environment where Singletary will never let that happen.
"I saw [49ers tight end]
Bengals head coach
"I think every situation is different and we as coaches know our players and the situation better than anyone else,'' Lewis said. "The only thing I tried to do in our situation was explain to him -- and his representation -- that whatever he thought was going to happen, [a trade] wasn't going to happen. I had cautioned him from the very onset about that, and management here backed that up. That's the way it should be in the NFL. You can't say you agree to do something, and then say you won't do it. You don't get to change and back out. Now, do you go through some tough times along the way? Hell yes, you do. There's a price to pay on both sides.''
Lewis is not shy about fingering what he sees as a common source of much of the diva behavior in the NFL receiver ranks. He points out that Johnson, Burress and Boldin were all represented by high-profile agent
"Unfortunately it's the personality of these players and the fact that they're all represented by the same guy,'' Lewis said. "It comes down to guys trying to put themselves ahead of the good of the team, and in those cases, never once do you hear about winning first and foremost.''