In addressing the Tyreek Hill situation on Saturday, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt explained in very pragmatic terms the reality that any player acquisition entails “some element of risk.” When it comes to players like 2016 fifth-round draft pick Tyreek Hill, it’s time for the NFL to raise the stakes.
The only way for NFL to encourage teams to more prudently use current draft picks when considering players with off-field red flags will be to implement a system for seizing future draft picks, if that red flag becomes a full-blown storm.
More than four years ago, the league considered the possibility of taking draft picks from teams whose players violate the Personal Conduct Policy.
“What level of accountability should be expected of clubs?” Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote to the league’s owners in October 2014. “Is the current Salary Remittance Program sufficient, or should additional measures be considered?”
The Salary Remittance Program entails a system of fines for teams who have multiple players suspended in a given year. And the Salary Remittance Program doesn’t work, since it’s like a traffic ticket. Taking draft picks would be more like seizing the car.
“Nothing else will work, because there always will be an owner, a G.M., or a coach who won’t be able to resist the upside,” we wrote in 2013, after Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder. “Make the downside more significant, and teams will start doing a much better job of avoiding troubled players — and of keeping all of their players out of trouble.”
When the Chiefs drafted Tyreek Hill in round five three years ago, they did their due diligence (it apparently wasn’t good enough), and they ultimately engaged in a risk-reward analysis. Even if he never plays for them again, they got extensive value over three seasons for the investment made in 2016.
But what if the Chiefs knew when taking Hill that future trouble would cause them to lose one or more future picks? Would they have done a better job of studying him? Would they have been willing to roll the dice with a third-day pick? Would they have had an even greater incentive to ensure he gets whatever counseling, treatment, etc. that he needed in order to better manage anger?
If/when the NFL crosses this bridge, the challenge becomes setting the right penalty. The greater the penalty, the less likely teams will be to give players who have engaged in misconduct “second chances” instead of nurturing the first chances of the many players who do not get in trouble.
Of course, this could lead to an unintended consequence of making the Personal Conduct Policy even more political, given that competitive reasons beyond the unavailability of the player would infect the process. Regardless, it’s fair to expect NFL executives generating seven-figure salaries to balance all interests, to ensure that all procedures are properly followed, and ultimately to give teams a clear incentive to help players avoid making bad decisions, and a clear disincentive to assume the otherwise acceptable risk of investing a low-round pick on a high-round talent.