When it comes to arrests, NFL shifting concern from PR to W-L mark

by | National NFL Insider
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Respected vets Champ Bailey and Matt Forte acknowledge the problems player arrests bring. (Getty Images)  
Respected vets Champ Bailey and Matt Forte acknowledge the problems player arrests bring. (Getty Images)  

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte has read about the number of arrests happening in his sport. What he said when asked about them wasn't stated with condescension. There was no holier-than-thou attitude. Just a simple, accurate statement.

"It's not that hard to stay out of trouble," said Forte, known as one of the NFL's good guys. "Be respectful of yourself, your team, and other people. Stay off the streets. Just have two drinks instead of 10. Call a cab. It's pretty simple.

"One of the big things is it can impact the team in a negative way if you have a lot of arrests. Some guys don't want to admit that but it's true."

It is that part of the NFL arrest story often lost in the haze of tantalizing, repeated and, in some ways, almost sad headlines of various NFL player off-field issues.

There is increasing evidence and opinion that arrests aren't solely embarrassing, they can negatively impact win totals. It comes down to this: Player arrests go beyond just bad public relations. They can be predictors of on-field success, or lack thereof.

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"Some of that depends on the team," Bears backup quarterback Jason Campbell said. "You can have cases where teams can overcome it. But others can't. I do think it's true that if one guy gets into trouble the whole team can be affected. Because people on the team are asked by the media about an arrest, the league gets involved, the team gets involved. It can be very distracting and become an issue in the locker room and on the field."

The NFL has watched this situation closely because the numbers are growing. Player arrests have risen from 42 in 2010, 44 in 2011 and approximately 48 so far this year. Particularly disturbing is that arrests for driving under the influence and violence against women have risen.

In 2010, there were 16 arrests for driving under the influence, eight in 2011 (some league sources believe this lower number is an anomaly because of the lockout) and approximately 19 so far in 2012.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, in a recent conversation with CBSSports.com, said, "We are going to do some things to combat this problem because some of the numbers on DUIs and domestic violence are going up and that disturbs me. When there's a pattern of mistakes, something has got to change."

While the NFL and the players union will enact new polices to try and curb the problem, in interviews with players and team executives, the newer belief among teams themselves is that Darwinism will take over. Teams that have problem players will lose and teams that don't will win.

According to a database created by the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Minnesota Vikings have had 36 players arrested since 2000, the most in the league. Cincinnati is next with 35, Denver at 32 and Tennessee with 30. There aren't a lot of championships in that group.

Let's extrapolate that list even further to the top 10 teams with the most arrests: Vikings, Bengals, Broncos, Titans, Jaguars (27), Chiefs (27), Dolphins (26), Chargers (25), Buccaneers (24) and then the Colts (23). So of that dubious top 10, only the Colts and Bucs have won Super Bowls since 2000.

Far down the list are teams like the Steelers (17), Ravens (16), Patriots (13) and Giants (12) -- all Super Bowl winners since 2000 and some multiple winners. The Eagles, also with a Super Bowl appearance, are low on the list with 10, as are the Jets, who have been to multiple conference title games.

The statistical evidence isn't a perfect predictor but it's pretty good.

"Somebody gets arrested, it's talked about in the locker room," said Denver's Champ Bailey. "It can be a distraction. When you have distractions like that, it can hurt how a team focuses."

One player who asked not to be identified said when a player was arrested on his team, it became a topic in the locker room for weeks, leading to arguments among the players about whether the player was wrongly arrested.

Forte was asked about a Detroit Lions team that has become a symbol of this problem after myriad offseason arrests.

"It's going to hurt them and it's going to help them," Forte said. "Hurt them in the short term because of the embarrassment. But in the long term, the young guys will learn, and see how big a deal this stuff is, and grow from it. For now, it'll be a problem for them."

In the past, teams paid lip service to having fewer problem players, but in the end didn't care. That's clearly changing as teams are beginning to link arrests with win-loss records.

"The Giants, Patriots and Packers," said one general manager, "aren't teams with an abundance of arrested players. That says a lot right there."

Calling it the "Packer way," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, "We're able to manage a lot of that stuff. We don't have a lot of distractions. Keep your mouth shut and play."

And don't get arrested.

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