By Ernie Palladino
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The Brahman owners of the National Football League can talk all they want about the horrors of domestic violence and their full-hearted support of the league’s measures to punish the brutes who would knock out their wives and girlfriends and abuse their kids.
Until they start turning their backs on talent, however, nothing will really change. All the high-flown talk generated by “No More” public service announcements and increased suspensions for violators of the personal conduct policy won’t really take hold unless things change at the team level.
When it gets down to that, the only issue was, is, and always will be about winning. And to achieve that, a franchise needs talent.
Owners demand success, which is exactly why Jerry Jones signed disgraced Carolina sack master Greg Hardy off the free agent market Wednesday.
It’s the same reason the Vikings insist on hanging onto their MVP running back Adrian Peterson, despite his dubious, tree-branch discipline philosophy regarding his four-year-old son. Identical reasoning will eventually land Baltimore’s elevator KO artist Ray Rice in a new backfield, possibly in Detroit if Lions new defensive tackle and Rice ex-teammate Haloti Ngata has anything to say about it.
Winning. It trumps everything else.
On the team level, behavioral issues come a distant second, as Jones proved.
The Cowboys found themselves in much want defensively after finishing last season ranked 28th in sacks. So Jones went out and got one of the league’s most ferocious pass rushers in Hardy, who collected the bulk of a $13 million salary during his 15 games on the commissioner’s exempt list — basically a paid suspension — for allegedly roughing up his girlfriend, throwing her on a pile of guns on his couch, and threatening to kill her.
Hardy reached a civil settlement with his accuser, and the criminal chargers were dismissed when the woman refused to testify. He’s still looking at a possible six-game suspension from the NFL, providing the league can get at some sealed evidence, but Jones signed him anyway to a $13.1 million, one-year deal.
He wasn’t the only one interested, either. The Bucs were in it until they backed off Wednesday, officially citing their discomfort with putting Hardy in their locker room. Or perhaps they were just afraid they’d pay Hardy all that money only to lose his services for a good chunk of the season.
Jones had no such fears, apparently. He did protect himself against any lost time by tying more than $9 million of that contract to a per-game roster bonus. In other words, no play, no pay.
But that says nothing about Jones’ moral compass, whose constancy appears its ability to point to Magnetic South. Even a Dallas sportscaster couldn’t contain his outrage over the signing.
“Just when I think the Cowboys can’t possibly sink any lower…they can’t fall from grace any lower than they have,” 66-year-old Dale Hansen said, “they find a shovel and dig a few feet deeper.”
He’s wrong. Jones just abided by the status quo of team owners. Need help? Grab a good player. Character issues? Eh, we’ll deal with those as they arise.
The Vikings are right down there with the Cowboys. Without Peterson, their ground game was ranked a mundane 14th. With him, they’ll be right back near the top of the league.
They apparently are less worried about how he views his parental responsibilities than his ability to put points on the board. They could make a great statement and cut him outright today, bite the bullet, and absorb a $13 million salary cap hit. But they won’t. They might still trade him, but they would have to get a boatload of talent back.
The need to win trumps everything else on the team level. It leads to all kinds of rationalization, and makes suckers out of the league office and victims alike. The only way to affect true change is for the teams themselves to start turning their collective backs on talented miscreants.
Don’t play them. Don’t sign them. Don’t even answer their agents’ phone calls.
It’ll never happen. The teams don’t care, not really. And the fans don’t care, either. Not when it gets in the way of a winning record.
“Greg Hardy’s jersey is being sold on the Cowboys’ on-line pro shop right now,” Hansen railed. “You could get one for your sister or daughter, and then explain to her that Hardy beats up women, but we’re cheering him now because he’s really good on game day. And game day is all that really matters to me.”
For the individual franchises, it’s all about winning. Even if you have to hire a bum.