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Eisenberg: Players Must Mature And Police Themselves


When the Ravens were generating a few too many unflattering headlines with their off-field behavior a few months ago, I wrote that the behavior might stop if the organization made an example of the next guy who got in trouble.

Many responders gave that idea a vigorous thumbs-up. Off with their heads!

But the "next guy" turned out to be cornerback Jimmy Smith, a key defensive piece, one of the team's best pass defenders. He was arrested for misdemeanor disorderly conduct on July 12.

If the Ravens had elected to take a stand and "make an example" of him, i.e., part ways, they would have taken a major whack out of their pass defense and hurt their chances of fielding a winning team in 2014. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals surely would have applauded the move, but I doubt anyone in Ravenstown would have given it a vigorous thumbs-up.  (Smith, by the way, will soon get to give his version of what happened that night. I'm not judging, but every story has two sides.)

Upon further review, while what I wrote before is true – making an example of someone would send a powerful message and make the rest of the players think twice – the reality is these situations are complex and require a more nuanced response than "off with their heads!"

Yes, the Ravens are free to unload any player at any time. They're the bosses. They have the hammer.

But at the same time, there's only so much they can do in some cases. Players have a union and agents on their side, and there are always salary cap concerns, a huge determinant.

In Jimmy Smith's case, the Ravens reportedly owe him $2.374 million against the cap this season and have already signed him for 2015 for close to $7 million. They would still have to pick up a portion of that if they parted ways, turning one of their top pass defenders into a "dead money" case even though he's healthy and seemingly entering his prime years. That's just a bad idea all around.

Remember, the Ravens' first priority is to win games. That's also their second, third and fourth priorities, if you get my drift.

Sure, they also need to strive to represent their community appropriately, present a product their ticket-buying public will feel good about supporting. They can only tolerate so much of the wrong behavior.

But the leash is going to be long, and that and all other ancillary concerns are trumped in their decision-making by what's best for the team on the field – what helps them win. That's what everyone wants from them, after all.

What the Ravens experienced this offseason was embarrassing. They led the NFL in a category no one envies, players getting arrested. Does that mean they have an institutional discipline problem and the inmates are running the asylum? I don't think so. I don't buy that it reflects a lack of locker room leadership, or that it wouldn't have happened if Ray Lewis were still around. That's a tired argument. I just think some guys exhibited immaturity and a lack of judgment while on their own, away from the team and coaches. They're adults, responsible for their own behavior, and they blew it.

The team has tools it can wield to send a message and try to curb the behavior. It can levy fines and suspensions, and yes, just cut a guy if it feels that's warranted. But the organization is always going to weigh the value of such a move against what it would mean on the field. That's just the reality.

In the end, frankly, it shouldn't be up to the team to police the players. There's only so much the team can do, especially when the players are off duty, on their own. To repeat, they're adults, responsible for their own behavior. They need to be mature enough to police themselves.

Yes, they're young guys who have worked hard to put themselves in the rarefied position of getting paid pretty handsomely to play a game. You can see how it goes to their heads, but that's no excuse.

The Ravens can't make it stop. The players are the ones who can make it stop. They're professionals now, a word that conveys a lot of things, including adulthood. College is over, guys. It's time to grow up.

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