Michael Schottey’s Response to “The Freak Getting Freaky”

Bramel would have tried to float this by us if he could, but he had enough sense to pick a descendant - Aldon Smith. Photo of Lawrence Taylor from JACorbett70's 1984 Magnavox.
 Photo of Lawrence Taylor from JACorbett70’s 1984 Magnavox.

Imagine a freakish athlete of Randy Moss’ or Lawrence Taylor’s caliber of skills as a left tackle but with the charisma of a veteran QB and the party habits of Manziel. A GM wouldn’t know whether to hug him or hit him.

What is 2014’s Writer’s Project?

This year’s RSPWP is a different take on team building. I will have 15-20 written scenarios based on true NFL stories provided to me from current and former NFL employees (scouts, players, and consultants). In each scenario, the participating writer is the general manager of an NFL team has a decision to make. Each scenario will have at least two different writers. I will post the writers’ responses and the actual outcome of the case study (if applicable).

Find out more about RSPWP3 and see other GM Scenarios.

GM Scenario No.3: The Freak Getting Freaky

You drafted a left tackle No.1 overall last year who is an absolute specimen. He’s so gifted athletically that he could probably play tight end in the NFL. Imagine a big and ripped Bruce Smith, but bigger, stronger, and faster—yeah, that rare.

He earned one of the highest grades that your scouts have ever given to a player. He’s a freak of nature.

He also played at a university where the athletic program—especially the football team—ran the college town. If you’ve seen the movie Varsity Blues, imagine the story tailored for a college team and college town. This left tackle was a hard partier and the pre-draft investigation didn’t have to dig too deep to discover his proclivity for the festivity.

What’s equally unusual about this player is that despite his wild times, there was no evidence of drug use, alcohol dependency, drunk driving, fights, or violence against women. Unlike your veteran middle linebacker, he doesn’t take photos of his conquests in mid-act and show them to the guys in the locker room. And unlike the team’s cornerback he was never suspected of using the date rape drug.

This player is a handsome, intelligent, charismatic guy who likes to go to bars, drink a few, and be around women. The problem is that as good as he’s been on the field as a rookie he has been a frustrating pain in the ass for these reasons, too.

He has fallen asleep in four meetings and there were two occasions in training camp where the team thinks he snuck out to party all night. However, he’s such a quick thinker and charmer that he talked his way out of further investigation into the matter. The guy could be a con man.

This stud tackle in his NFL debut shut down a future Hall of Fame pass rusher at his peak like the guy was fringe player. He’s not a team captain, but the players respond to him like one—even the veterans. This would be great if not for the fact that he nearly missed a flight for a road game last year because he couldn’t find the keys to his car.

For frame of reference about missed meetings and flights, one of the most dangerous players in the NFL recently saw his relationship with his team (an organization that has appeared in four Super Bowls (winning two) during the past 15 years) deteriorate because he didn’t plan his drive to accommodate a snowstorm and he arrived 45 minutes late to the facility. A few weeks later he was cut.

This rookie has that same kind of freakish ability as this aforementioned star and the potential to become a great leader. But after this first year of dominance followed by partying, the coaches don’t know whether they want to hit him or hug him (sometimes both).

The only thing keeping this player from becoming a national superstar the fact your team is a small market organization. If you were in New York, he’d already be a major problem. However, it won’t be long before his enjoyment of the excess could hurt you.

Although he has shown the judgment at college and this year to avoid incidents that would lead to arrest, the fact that he’s out late and indulging in this hard-partying lifestyle makes him a vulnerable target for others who might prey on him. If he misses time due to these behaviors it will ultimately hurt the team.

You’ve met with him once about his behavior, warning him about the dangers out there. You think he heard some of your points, but he still doesn’t seem ready to embrace it all.

You can’t have a member of the team’s security be his bodyguard and his veterans would roll their eyes at the idea of being this guy’s babysitter. However, you’re worried he’s one night away from missing a meeting, a plane, or a curfew.

What do you do? What’s your rationale for your decision? What are the consequences you’re willing to live with if your decision doesn’t work out?

Michael Schottey’s Response

Fahey discusses the stigma of drafting for need while explaining his pick of Asante Samuel. Photo by Football Schedule.
Schottey compares this situation (aptly) to Dez Bryant’s in Dallas. Photo by Football Schedule.

Where does reward get outweighed by risk?

Around the NFL, there are countless stories of talented players whose careers have been waylaid or completely derailed by character issues and off-the-field concerns. Because of that, the NFL is uniquely worried about the massive investment made in the players they bring in—especially in high draft picks.

So, while many fans may wish to dismiss this scenario as “boys will be boys,” an NFL executive or owner certainly would not.

Using the details in the scenario about this star player’s background, the initial comparisons I was able to make to the NFL were troubled players like Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant and former players like Cris Carter and Randy Moss.

Yet, it’s probably most important to focus on this quote from the scenario:

What’s equally unusual about this player is that despite his wild times, there was no evidence of drug use, alcohol dependency, drunk driving, fights, or violence against women. Unlike your veteran middle linebacker, he doesn’t take photos of his conquests in mid-act and show them to the guys in the locker room. And unlike the team’s cornerback he was never suspected of using the date rape drug.

That passage whittles down the list of comparisons and makes situations like Miller (drug use), Smith (DUI), Carter (drug use and connection to organized crime) and Moss (drug use and legal issues).

This leaves Bryant, with a known and vibrant night life being the chief off-the-field concern of his young career—although, admittedly, there are also some minor legal concerns (civil and a misdemeanor offense).

The Dallas Cowboys have done a good job of putting up a wall around Bryant. Though they have done so somewhat publicly in response to a public belief that they weren’t doing enough. This scenario could easily mirror a similar plan without the spotlight.

The buzzword here is accountability.

By all accounts, this scenario seems like a young kid who needs to grow up. With a sheltered home life and a youth spent honing his football skills, college offered him the opportunity to sow his wild oats and he did so with aplomb.

There aren’t issues that need zero-tolerance intervention, but these are headaches that could grow into more if left unchecked.

First and foremost, I would share these concerns with both the player’s agent and the NFLPA liaison on my team. This player is having trouble learning how to be a businessman and both of those groups are supposedly entrusted with helping that transition take place. Of course, much would then hinge on how professional this player’s agent is and how seriously both of those bodies takes these concerns.

I would also, personally, communicate with the player my own personal feelings about his off-the-field habits. I would intimate that I don’t think he has a serious issue, but that we do expect him to live up to the commitments he has made. I would remind him of the things he learned at the rookie symposium and the programs that are in place to keep him not only safe and well-off for his playing career by long into the future.

Most of all, I would tell him how seriously an issue like missing flights, meetings and practices would be dealt with. I would communicate the thin ice he is on with the coaching staff, that though we appreciate his on-the-field play, his habits off the field are fostering a toxic atmosphere in the locker room.

With that communication having taken place, I would place someone in my organization—either a coaching assistant or a scouting assistant—to “babysit” the player (and I use the term babysit, lightly in this scenario). Basically, become a point of contact between this player and the organization: calls and texts to keep touch, light curfew enforcement on off nights, encouragement to take part in organizational charity efforts as well as initiate his own.

This would be done, hopefully, as a partnership between our organization and the player’s “camp.” The idea is accountability and not to enable those bad choices with a “babysitter” to clean up after his messes.

Finally, a plan would be proactively put into place that would cover further steps (this being Step 1) if the player’s actions or attitude would get more out of hand.

The greatest concern here is not that the issues stay under wraps or that the player suddenly becomes a puritan. Instead, this player who has never been asked to grow up in the past will be asked to incubate at an accelerated level to the end that he will be even better on the field and quickly become worthy of a leadership player in the locker room.

Matt’s Notes

This offense will be the model for my scheme. Photo by The Brit_2.
It takes a village… Photo by The Brit_2.

I enjoyed Michael’s response for several reasons. First, he profiled a spectrum of talents with issues in the NFL. He also referenced some resources that the NFL provides to keep players safe. I would have liked to see Michael spell out some of the programs he was referencing so readers could see what he meant, but I know one of them is a taxi service that players can call anytime.

I admired the idealism of Michael’s decision to give this left tackle a point of contact responsible for regular communication and enforcement of slightly more stringent rules while encouragement to engage in more positive things off the field. Maybe Michael meant to add this, but I read his description of this employee’s role and what I imagined was a potential mentor rather than a chaperone.

The real NFL scenario involved a stud player–one of the most talented I have ever seen at the position. The actual player had some strong seasons and a long career, but he never really maximized his the full athletic potential he displayed early on. He partied so much that the team worked through its head of security to hire a person outside the team (and I believe off the books) to accompany this player to the clubs, hang onto his keys, and make sure that he made the team flights.

This adult babysitting service didn’t go for a long time and the player grew up fast, but it was surprising to me that an NFL team went this far. It sounded like something out of a television script.

Back to Michael’s response. I would have loved more clarification with Michael’s use of “sheltered” to describe this young man. I left a lot about this young man’s life unwritten to give writers a shot at describing what this man’s childhood was like. Sheltered to me could mean a suburban kid from a nuclear family who never worked a day in his life outside of athletics. It could also mean a kid who has never left the confines of his particular neighborhood or town–regardless of wealth, family structure, and safety of the area–and had little interaction with others beyond his home, block, school, and football field until he left for college.

It would have been fun to see a writer draw a back story for his left tackle and use that to potentially address this issue. Some of you might think that’s not really the NFL’s concern; he’s an adult and he needs to act like one. This is also an idealistic view and as we’ve seen with this real life example above, some of the things agents do, and the presence of the rookie symposium, the NFL is far more pragmatic about its view of these men’s ability to conduct their lives with a level of maturity that the average college graduate does. Not that all NFL players lack these skills or that all college graduates have greater maturity–I’m only characterizing the perception.

When I read Michael’s response, I’m cynical that his efforts will work despite the fact that I like that this GM’s first approach is to treat this guy more like a man than a little boy. I think this player believes he’s smarter than everyone else. According to one of my friends formerly involved in the NFL, players are deathly afraid of missing meetings. The fact that this player walks the line so close and has the gift of gab that wins people over even when he’s behaving questionably is an indicator that he’s not going to stop with the bounds that Michael placed here.

I bet Michael knows this, but he doesn’t want to waste his time going overboard with players even if they’re special–and this guy is super special. He has the potential to be the best left tackle of all time. Von Miller and Aldon Smith are fine players, maybe even fantastic players, but this left tackle is a solid notch above–a game-changing talent like Lawrence Taylor, Bo Jackson, or Jim Brown.

I would assign a mentor to this player. In fact, I’d assign two. While I like the off-field check-in guy that Michael created, a young guy like this left tackle may feel singled out that he has to deal with a non-player and it could be more alienating than helpful. I will have a guy like this, but he’s going to be a former player recently out of the league who lives in the area and is admired and respected for his play on the field.

The second guy I’ll have is even more important and that’s one of his veteran teammates. I will award this veteran bonus money in his next deal for mentoring this rookie. He will be that big brother who spends time with the young player off the field. He’ll be the type of guy that will include this young player in family get-togethers, take him along to community events, and make him a part of his regular life.

They key is finding the right player to do it, but this left tackle is a gregarious guy and everyone in the locker room likes him so I don’t think it will be hard. In fact, I’d reach out to 3-5 guys to do it and let them plan a schedule so one veteran isn’t forced to spend all their free time with him. Although this sounds like a forced relationship, the fact this guy is so likable makes it a more natural situation that I’m simply encouraging with a little monetary and structural incentive for the betterment of the team.

My hope would be that the player would be surrounding by 4-5 guys subtly steering him into their group of influence and expanding his horizons. If I have to pay them a little bonus for doing it with a little plan among them and the chance to check in with them as needed, I’m all for it. Sometimes surrounding a guy with great influences can help.

If it doesn’t work and he continues down this path. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.





7 responses to “Michael Schottey’s Response to “The Freak Getting Freaky””

  1. When I was in law school, I once met a graduate who had become a sports attorney who mostly worked as an agent, including for some fairly high profile NFL players. He talked a lot about that he considered it part of HIS responsibility to make sure that the player took care of his (or her–he did handle some female professional athletes as well) money and his off-the-field life, because that way the player would get more contracts and more money later on, which was better for the agent. He had a whole cadre of people with whom he would require players to have meetings and then he would encourage them to stay in touch with those people as counselors in all different areas, whether it was business, drugs, partying, or something else entirely. And he always told players that he would find them someone to help with anything else as well.

    I think it’s interesting that Mr. Waldman ends up doing something quite similar for this player in his own answer to the scenario, albeit through the team rather than the agent. Mr. Schottey talks about immediately informing the player’s agent about his concerns, and at least some agents would probably implement a plan something like Mr. Waldman’s without even needing team involvement. It seems to me that, if possible, that would be better, since the player probably wouldn’t feel “babysat” the way he might with the team doing such things.

    This year’s RSPWP is interesting so far, and I look forward to the rest.

    • Thanks for the comments. What might have been gotten lost in my commentary is that I would not make this involvement an official team thing to the player involved. I’d try to create it without his knowledge and have the players work together to foster the environment for the good of the team. I’ve seen this happen in team settings in my youth–albeit not in a professional athletic environment–and it worked well.

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