Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Marcell Dareus is having one of the worst offseasons in recent memory. Multiple arrests, rarely showing up on time for meetings and failing a conditioning test have made the 2013 Pro Bowler a major disappointment just as he was starting to hit his stride.
It’s so bad that the Bills should think twice about extending one of the league’s most destructive defenders who’s not even in the prime of his career.
Off-field problems for Dareus are not exclusive to this offseason. Tim Graham of The Buffalo News said that Dareus’ marijuana usage has been an issue since Chan Gailey was the head coach. He was also frequently late for team meetings during the 2013 season, which made head coach Doug Marrone bench him for the first half against the New England Patriots.
And that makes Dareus’ troubling offseason even more concerning.
The 6’3”, 331-pound defensive lineman failed his conditioning test on July 20, placing him on the non-football injury list. This happened after Dareus was arrested in May and charged with three crimes in June.
The responses to Dareus’ failed test have not been gratifying. Robert Quinn of BillsMafia.com compared Dareus to former lineman Albert Haynesworth, who didn’t pass a conditioning test during his disastrous tenure with the Washington Redskins:
Buffalo Bills columnist Chris Trapasso summed up Dareus’ offseason as embarrassing:
It's very early, but that's a pretty embarassing development for Marcell Dareus after a pretty embarrassing offseason for him.— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) July 20, 2014
Dareus has two years left on his rookie contract. If he stays on this troubling path off the field, the Bills should focus on finding his replacement.
The playoff-challenged Bills letting go of their best young defender seems absurd. Just 24 years old, Dareus is coming off a season where he had 71 tackles, seven sacks and a trip to the Pro Bowl. He was the sixth-best defensive tackle/nose tackle in Pro Football Focus’ 2013 player ratings, and he had 45 stops (most among defensive tackles and nose tackles) according to the statistics (subscription required).
Even then, the stats don’t do justice for Dareus’ on-field impact. He played all across the line in Mike Pettine’s defense last season, as both a nose tackle and a traditional 3-technique defensive tackle. He can be Ndamukong Suh one play and Vince Wilfork the next. That type of ability doesn’t just grow on trees.
But Dareus’ immense talent is not enough to justify his rampant offseason.
The Bills organization seems to agree. General manager Doug Whaley said an extension for Dareus was “on the radar,” according to Chris Brown of the Buffalo Bills team website. That was in February.
Then, Whaley said in the Bills’ predraft press conference that the team was going to focus on the draft first. Then it would start looking at a contract extension for Dareus. That was April.
But what is most telling about the relationship between Whaley and Dareus is a statement the general manager said, via Jarrett Bell of USA Today.
"If [Dareus] was a malicious guy and you looked him in the eye and he wasn't remorseful, you'd take a different course of action,” Whaley said. “But when you've been around this guy and you know him, you know he must make better choices."
If those better choices don’t start happening soon, then the Bills should be done with Dareus after his rookie contract. Or maybe even earlier than that, at his current rate.
Keep in mind that Dareus was drafted in 2011 by former GM Buddy Nix, not Whaley, an assistant for the Bills at the time. Coach Marrone is in that same boat, along with new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Schwartz is no stranger to prioritizing the defensive line over the back seven, but he couldn’t exactly tame Suh in Detroit or Haynesworth in Tennessee. They don’t have the same investment in Dareus that the past regime did.
And it’s not just the coaches and front-office guys who are impacted by Dareus’ behavior. Graham of The Buffalo News says Dareus could have a negative effect on other Bills players:
At what point do Marrone and GM Doug Whaley send a message to Dareus and the others about what won't be tolerated?
How do the Bills expect to reclaim guys like receiver Mike Williams and linebacker Brandon Spikes, whose bad behavior got them sideways with their previous employers?
How can the Bills expect youngsters -- some with histories of getting suspended and/or kicked off their college teams for being drunk and stupid -- remain model teammates when one of their young stars keeps blowing off authority?
The Bills have been recently gambling on talent over sparkling track records off the field. It makes sense, as Buffalo has been stuck in limbo for the past decade—never bad enough to get the No. 1 overall pick, but never good enough to clinch a playoff berth.
Buffalo's “go for the best talent despite character risks” philosophy could make Dareus’ recent troubles even more damaging to the team's locker room.
No, Dareus showing up to camp out of shape will not create chaos among Bills players. But when his failed conditioning test is combined with a plethora of other issues—drug charges and speeding among them—it’s fair to wonder how long Dareus’ leash really is. Other players could try to see if they get the same treatment.
That’s the worst-case scenario. The best-case scenario involves Dareus shaking off his conditioning problems and dominating throughout the 2014 season, with no benchings for tardiness and a spotless off-field record. Buffalo promptly gives him a Dareus-sized contract extension, and the Bills defense flourishes.
But if Dareus gets into more legal trouble, the NFL will take action. And that means Dareus is a step closer to becoming another Josh Gordon. That is what’s causing hesitancy in the team’s front office in regard to his future.
Because just one more bad headline for Dareus could be the straw that breaks Buffalo’s back.