By Paul Daugherty
May 05, 2010

The Cincinnati Bengals are on the verge of signing Pacman Jones even though they don't need a backup cornerback and they already have enough players who can return kicks. Last year went too well for the Bengals, who won the AFC North and avoided clogging the judicial system. They needed to change things up, to get back to who they were five years ago when half their roster was auditioning for Cops.

Sometimes as a sportswriter I get confused. Which player beat up his girlfriend again? Was it the guy whose posse fired shots inside the Las Vegas strip club or the guy who resisted arrest and had to be handcuffed after cops clocked him driving 100? Are they related to the quarterback who had sex with a coed in a nightclub bathroom?

The Bengals aren't the only club that deals in miscreants. They're just perfecting the model. Before their pursuit of Pacman Jones, they signed receiver Antonio Bryant for four years and $28 million. Bryant is no Pacman. He has been suspended only once, four games in 2006, for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Of course, Bryant also sat out the entire '07 season rather than subject himself to league drug testing.

Earlier this offseason, Cincinnati landed wideout Matt Jones, whose three-game league suspension came in 2008. Properly humbled, Jones was arrested again last March, after a failed drug test violated the terms of his probation.

In this year's draft, the Bengals took Carlos Dunlap, a defensive end from Florida who was suspended for last year's SEC title game after being charged with DUI five days before the game.

Mother, make it stop.

Why the Bengals would throw another lifeline to Pacman is a mystery, even for them. They have two corners on the verge of stardom, Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. They thought highly enough of another corner, Brandon Ghee, to spend a third-round draft choice on him last month. Their other backups, Morgan Trent and David Jones, played frequently last year, on the league's fourth-ranked defense.

If they want Pacman to return punts, he needs to do better than average five yards an attempt, which he did in Dallas the last time he played, in 2008. The Bengals were second in the league in punt returns, averaging 11.9 yards.

You can take questionable players. Every team does. You don't have to collect them like bobbleheads. You don't have to wallow in them.

Why players get multiple chances to screw up is obvious: Winning. There's more to it than that, though. Ben Roethlisberger's lawyer provided a glimpse.

After Roethlisberger met with commissioner Roger Goodell, and before Goodell suspended the Steelers' quarterback, David Cornwell wrote a letter to Goodell. SI's Peter King obtained a copy this week. Cornwell suggested Goodell do more than simply suspend Roethlisberger:

"I am unable to discern a link between a suspension and any useful lesson that would tend to alter Ben's conduct,'' Cornwell wrote.

Fair enough. Goodell might have considered that in his ruling: Six game suspension, plus a behavioral evaluation and counseling.

Then Cornwell got it badly wrong.

"(Roethlisberger's) passion for football and the remarkable success resulting from his commitment to the game necessarily means that he has compromised his development in other areas. No person has unlimited capacity.''

Oh. OK.

This takes us to a new level of understanding, on the subject of misbehavior in the NFL: To become a great football player requires such "commitment'' that other aspects of your life suffer. Or, you know, disappear altogether. Such as being a decent human being.

The dogged pursuit of football excellence requires some tradeoffs. How can a man who spends hours studying film be expected not to force himself on young women? Allegedly.

It's a tradeoff. You can't be a civil human being and a great NFL player at the same time. You have to choose. Good human/good player. Human/player. After all, no person has unlimited capacity.

Why didn't Pacman think of this?

"I'm sorry I was arrested six times and involved with cops a total of 12 times. I'm sorry I was once suspended for 22 out of a possible 28 games. And, you know, if I'm in a Vegas strip club throwing dollar bills at the dancers, then I get mad when the dancers take the money and a little scrap ensues and a club employee gets shot and paralyzed as a result, well, it's because I'm a football player doing the best I can in my chosen profession and sometimes that doesn't leave a lot of time for me to work on, you know, my personal game plan.''

Apparently, anyone who devotes his life to a single-minded pursuit of excellence can be excused for acting like a caveman. When I sit down to craft the Great American Novel, I will keep that in mind.

In the meantime, the Cincinnati Bengals are on the verge of signing Pacman Jones, the embodiment of athletic diligence, evidently. Either that or he's just a troubled guy who keeps getting chances. Maybe the Bengals will come to their senses and allow Pacman the privilege of playing football elsewhere.

Or maybe they won't. These are the Bengals' senses. Never mind.

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