Would an NFL team sign a player who has been accused of spitting at another athlete while in college, ejected for fighting in a game, suspended for fighting in practice, suspended for misdemeanor assault, kicked off one college team, then a second?
Would an NFL team sign a player who was accused of getting intoxicated at a house party and hitting one guy over the head with a beer bottle and punching another?
Would an NFL team sign a player who was repeatedly benched in the NFL for losing his temper, who argued with his coach in front of the entire team, who was fined $50,000 by the NFL for serial headbutting, who was accused of harassing a woman at a golf facility by, among other things, rubbing her genitals with a golf club?
Would an NFL team sign a player who allegedly called an African-American teammate a "half n----- piece of s---" in a league that is some 66 percent black?
Would an NFL team sign such a man? Would an NFL team sign Richie Incognito?
The answer seems to be "yes."
In interviews with several team executives and veteran players from across the sport, the resounding opinion was twofold.
First, few think Incognito should be signed.
Second, the feeling is that he nonetheless will be signed.
The overall sentiment is that Incognito is talented enough to make the risk of yet another incident or a PR disaster worth the chance.
In fact, I've been told that teams have been combing through Incognito's background for any incidents not generally known, so as to eliminate any potential surprises should they sign him.
"He's not a good guy," said one general manager, "but we're not a league of good guys. There are some bad guys in football, but it's football, not the Salvation Army. He can play, if the commissioner allows it, he'll get another job."
Former player Scott Fujita, who played 11 years in the NFL with four different teams, told Bleacher Report, "He'll definitely get signed. And even places I've been who preach bringing in 'high-character guys' as all teams do, if there's a need for him, then there's a place for him."
One different personnel man quoted late Giants general manager George Young, who used to say the NFL "is not a league for the well-adjusted." That reasoning would be utilized to justify the signing, saying Incognito is a violent man playing a violent sport. It's a variation of "You need me on that wall."
The one caveat is the upcoming report by investigator Ted Wells, who has been charged with fact-finding in the case of Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Bleacher Report obtained a statement from Martin regarding the timing of the report, which said in part: "Mr. Wells informed the NFL before the Super Bowl that he expected his report to be completed and issued either late next week or early the following week. Mr. Wells continues to be in full control of the timing of the report."
If Wells discovers more troubling information regarding Incognito, it could change everything. Commissioner Roger Goodell could potentially take more disciplinary action against Incognito, including suspending him indefinitely. The Dolphins recently lifted their own suspension on him.
The NFL will not rule out any action until it sees the report, a league source explained. Incognito can't be signed until March 11. It remains highly unlikely he returns to the Dolphins.
One current veteran player said the fact Incognito has used ugly racial language would be initially hard to overcome, but in the end it would happen.
The player added, "Look at the Philadelphia Eagles. They were able to overcome it because that guy sincerely apologized, and I'm guessing Richie would do the same."
Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper was caught on video repeatedly using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert, but he later apologized. The Eagles didn't fracture, and Cooper seemed to be forgiven by most of the team's black players.
The fact that many of the black Miami players publicly backed Incognito would also work in his favor.
Interviews with people around the league confirm one of the great ironies of this story. While Incognito might survive this mess and play again, the feeling some have in football is that Martin's career might be in trouble.
Martin abruptly left the team to seek therapy for undisclosed mental health issues following a cafeteria prank in late October. We have no idea what that was for, but it added to the perception around football that something was not quite right with Martin—fair or not, accurate or not. The Dolphins placed him on the non-football injury list.
The NFL, more than anything, wants its players clearly defined. A bully? That's pretty clear, and in football very acceptable (yes, still). Someone fighting mental heath issues? In the NFL, right or wrong, harsh or not, the player is looked at differently. As undefinable.
To some players, the issue with Martin is trust. When asked if he felt guys could indeed trust Martin, one veteran player said in a text to Bleacher Report, "Of course not. He hung his best friend out. Took it public and created havoc for the team."
To other players, Martin would have a hard time getting signed, but for a different reason.
"The way I see it, Martin's situation is much more complicated," said Fujita. "I don't see locker room trust being his biggest obstacle to getting signed. A team would rather have a bully than a head case, even if those are just perceptions. Even with all the talk everyone gives to being 'against bullying' or 'sympathetic to mental illness,' I'm just giving you the reality."
It's worth noting that what Fujita said was stated to me in some form in every interview I did on this topic.
It's harsh, but it's reality.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
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