Chad Kelly was not invited to the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, according to the list released last week by the NFL. Or was he?
The tangled mess of the Kelly situation requires more than a passing line in a Scouting Notebook column. Because this is a mess. After interviewing Kelly's agent and his lawyer, requesting comment from the NFL and speaking to team officials, I learned everyone is equally puzzled as to why the Ole Miss quarterback won't be in Indianapolis next month.
Let's back up a second, though. When the NFL combine list was released Wednesday morning, Kelly's name was missing. A team official told me it was because of "off-field issues" and cited the NFL's new policy that allows the league to ban players from attending the combine. Here's that policy:
"As in the past, draft-eligible prospects will not be permitted to participate in any aspect of the Combine if a background check reveals a conviction of a felony or misdemeanor involving violence or use of a weapon, domestic violence, sexual offense and/or sexual assault. The NFL also reserves the right to deny participation of any prospect dismissed by their university or the NCAA."
So which of these policies did Kelly violate? Make no mistake about it, he has some skeletons in his closet that will be questioned hard by NFL teams. But the feeling around the league is: "If Dede Westbrook and Devonte Fields were invited, why wasn't Chad?"
Kelly has made mistakes, and his group isn't backing away from that. He was kicked off Clemson for conduct detrimental to the team in April 2014. After that, he spent a year at East Mississippi Community College—the school made famous in the Netflix series Last Chance U. And after leading EMCC to a perfect season and NJCAA championship, he committed to Ole Miss.
In December 2014, after signing at Ole Miss, Kelly was arrested following a fight outside a nightclub in Buffalo, New York, in which it was alleged he also threatened gun violence. It's this fight that could be the reason for Kelly's lost invite to the combine because he was arrested and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, which resulted in criminal charges being dropped. Kelly performed his 50 hours of community service and hasn't shown up in a police report since.
Again, the NFL's combine policy states players may be banned from attending "if a background check reveals a conviction of a felony or misdemeanor involving violence." It's confusing for Kelly's reps, who told Bleacher Report his disorderly conduct charge is equal to a speeding ticket or a citation for playing music too loudly.
Does the plea deal complicate things? It could, on a technical level, as could his dismissal from the Clemson football team even though Kelly was not kicked out of Clemson University. Arguing these finer points is Kelly's last leg to stand on as his reps ask the NFL to reconsider his case for the combine. Through these interviews, B/R learned Kelly's team is arguing he was not kicked out of Clemson University and was not convicted of a violent misdemeanor.
So how did Kelly go from invited to uninvited to appealing to be re-invited? Here's the timeline:
Jan. 6: Kelly receives official invite to combine.
Mid-January: Kelly returns invite paperwork to National Football Scouting office.
Early February: Combine officials call Kelly to arrange flight from Pensacola, Florida, to Indianapolis.
Feb. 9: NFS director Jeff Foster calls Kelly to rescind invitation on behalf of NFL.
Feb. 10: Kelly's agent emails NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent to request more information about why Kelly was uninvited. These emails went unreturned.
Feb. 11: Vincent leaves a voicemail saying he won't comment on details but that Kelly was uninvited because of a policy violation and a "committee decision."
Feb. 16: Kelly's lawyer, Thomas J. Eoannou, sends NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a letter explaining Kelly's plea deal.
Feb. 16: Kelly's uncle, Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, speaks to Goodell, who says the league is reviewing the case. A decision was expected by Friday, Feb. 17.
Since then, Kelly's agent, Vance McAllister, has been working to gather information about why Kelly was invited and then uninvited. As McAllister told me, "this isn't about any other kid or anyone else's player. This is about Chad. We just want answers about why he's not being invited and to put the facts out there. We appreciate that Commissioner Goodell and the NFL are reviewing our case."
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The facts. They're important not only to the public but to all 32 NFL teams that would have had the chance to interview Kelly at the combine. His past is littered with missteps—such as those mentioned above, and issues like when he ran onto the field during a brawl at his brother's high school football game in October and a Snapchat picture that circulated in November that showed Kelly in a room with marijuana (his agent told me the photo is two years old).
The only way teams can get comfortable with Kelly the person is by talking to him at the combine. But for reasons that don't quite compute, he may not receive that chance.
After tearing his right ACL and lateral meniscus in early November, Kelly has been cleared by Dr. James Andrews to throw and practice five- and seven-step drops. He had planned to throw at the combine and show teams his progress both on the field and in medical interviews.
Now, Kelly will wait and work toward Ole Miss' April 3 pro day, when he'll be further along in his rehab. He hopes to conduct passing drills for teams but will not run the 40-yard dash or do agility work.
The NFL did not respond to emails requesting comment for this story.