|Can Schwartz keep his players on the straight and narrow? (AP/Getty Images/US PRESSWIRE)|
Last Saturday, for the second time in less than two months, Lions 2011 first-round pick Nick Fairley was arrested. In early April, the defensive tackle was charged with possession of marijuana; his most recent booking came courtesy of a DUI and eluding police.
By itself, the two incidents are a black mark on a Lions organization that has worked hard to escape the losing mentality instilled (even if unwittingly) during the Matt Millen era. But Fairley isn't the only player incapable of avoiding trouble. Two of his Detroit draft classmates, running back Mikel Leshoure and offensive lineman Johnny Culbreath were also arrested on marijuana-related charges this offseason.
It doesn't help that Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said before the draft that the team wouldn't remove talented players solely because of character concerns. And now that philosophy could end up costing the organization more than on-field production.
Details courtesy of FoxSports.com's Alex Marvez:
Under NFL rules, any club that has at least two players suspended for violations in the same season under three different policies (performance-enhancing drugs, substances of abuse and personal conduct) must remit a portion of their salary to the league. …Not surprisingly, head coach Jim Schwartz is unimpressed with his two young high-round draft picks.
If both (Fairley and Leshoure) are suspended for repeat violations under the substance-abuse policy, the Lions will be required to submit to the NFL 25 percent of their respective base salaries for each game missed up to $200,000. Neither player would be paid during the suspensions.
"Obviously, we're going to use every tool we have to be able to handle that but the league also has ways that they can address," he said after Tuesday's OTAs. "From this standpoint, we've never had an incident we haven't addressed through every means that we can. We don't gloss over any or things like that. The league getting involved is generally things that are under their jurisdiction. I don't know any other way to answer that one."
The Lions' other 2011 second-rounder, wide receiver Titus Young, wasn't arrested, but he was in the news for the wrong reasons last week: he was kicked out of practice after reportedly punching teammate Louis Delmas. Young's temper was an issue during college and again as a rookie, but he has since apologized and the hope is that he'll mature from this latest incident.
Mayhew's roster-building strategy has paid short-term dividends (the team went from 0-16 in '08 to 10-6 last season), but it also comes with inherent risks. Risks which haven't been lost on at least one other front-office type.
"For those three (Fairley, Leshoure, Young), the signs and the flags were there -- it's not like they didn't have issues," an AFC personnel executive told NFL Network's Albert Breer. "It shouldn't be a huge surprise that these guys are having decision-making problems. Off the field, on the field, the flags were there. And it goes back to this: 'What's your philosophy on character risk? How do you approach the risk? Will it need to be significantly policed?' Those are the questions you need to answer."
The executive explained that while it's not uncommon for NFL clubs to take a flyer on a risky player, it's usually with a support system already in place: the Ravens, Steelers and Patriots are all examples (see, among others: Jimmy Smith, Santonio Holmes and Michael Adams, and Alfonzo Dennard). The Lions have no such luxury and, consequently, younger players aren't being kept in line by established locker-room veterans.
Breer writes that it was his understanding that when the Lions drafted Fairley, Young and Leshoure, Schwartz would be able to manage them because of his experiences in Tennessee with Albert Haynesworth and Pacman Jones. So far that hasn't happened.
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