The news of the latest Atlanta Falcon behaving badly came out yesterday. Second-year reserve safety Daren Stone was arrested on a drunk driving charge over the weekend, just a few weeks after starting linebacker Michael Boley was jailed on misdemeanor battery charges when his wife told police that he "became physical with her" during an argument.
Now’s about the time when the hand-wringing commences and people start decrying the "thug culture" in Flowery Branch. Not that such brushes with the law should be taken lightly; they shouldn’t. But let’s not get carried away either.
NFL types — barring maybe Jerry Jones and Al Davis — will always say that a player’s character is an issue when deciding who they draft or sign, even though their actions often prove otherwise. But in the wake of Michael Vick saga and the resulting PR pounding the team took in 2007, the new Falcons regime seem to have made a priority of choosing quality human beings.
It doesn’t take long to realize it, either.
The off-the-field polish of rookie quarterback Matt Ryan is real and well-documented. Deferring to the veterans in interviews and staying late to sign autographs, he’s as smooth with the public as he is breaking down plays in the film room. But less talked about is wide receiver Harry Douglas’s law school pursuits or Curtis Lofton’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes activities. Fellow newcomers Thomas DeCoud and Robert James have personality to spare and are a pleasure to talk to. Had Sam Baker and Kroy Biermann grown up in his part of the country they’d inevitably be dubbed "good ole boys." The more of them I meet, the more apparent it becomes that the Falcons rookie class is stocked with what seem to be genuinely good folks.
Of course, drafting a team full of Mother Theresas won’t help you win football games, and these guys weren’t picked because of their good deeds. The hard truth is that nobody cares what a swell guys you have if you’re 2-14. That’s the way of professional sports, not to mention the rest of world. But you’re not going to win much if you’ve got world class athletes that can’t stay out of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s office. The Falcons have already experienced that first-hand and now seem to be applying what they’ve learned.
"We considered everything," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said immediately after the team selected Ryan in April. "We considered character, and that always comes into play obviously with an early pick like this. But combine that with skills on and off the field. There were a number of things that came into this decision and we just feel that Matt Ryan is that guy we’re looking for to go forward and be the future quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons."
No matter the precautions taken, young men, being the creatures they are, will make bad decisions from time to time, and ugly headlines will always follow.
But by seeking more Keith Brookings and fewer Vicks, the Falcons are taking the right steps to make sure these incidents remain blips on the offseason radar and not the franchise-defining storylines we saw in 2007.