The Jacksonville Jaguars are gambling on wide receiver Dede Westbrook, giving him a chance to redeem himself.
I have said it before that Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone present a strong, disciplined approach that can help troubled players and poorly-motivated players succeed in the NFL. I stand by that.
But Dede Westbrook may be a difficult case.
The wide receiver was drafted in the fourth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2017 NFL Draft. He brings silky-smooth moves and speed with him to Jacksonville as well as some domestic violence incidents that should not be overlooked.
This pick, more than any other, is a gamble. And the Jacksonville Jaguars know it, too.
General manager David Caldwell came out and immediately addressed the issue with the media, stating clearly that “Obviously he’s had some issues earlier in his career [and] we feel that’s behind him — and it has to be behind him.” That last part of the statement is the true crux for the Jaguars.
While Coughlin and Marrone could very well turn Westbrook into a more disciplined man and a solid professional, if he messes up one more time, the Jags have to follow through and prove they will not tolerate it. Professional athletes have, for far too long, skated by with off-field issues – especially domestic violence. While Caldwell did not necessarily draw a line in the sand, his statement is one that Jags fans can point to if Westbrook does have another incident.
The NFL focuses more on what a player can do on the field than what he does off it. That, in and of itself, is not necessarily a terrible proposition. Many players deserve second chances and can prove to be model citizens once again if put in the right environment. Westbrook knows this and knows that the disciplined Jacksonville organization could be the kind of impact he needs.
This pick does not sit well with me as a fan or someone who covers the Jaguars. Concerns will forever shadow Westbrook through his career. While I hope he is able to grow as a man and become a better person (whether as a Jaguar, a professional athlete or otherwise), it is difficult to look at Westbrook as just a football player.
For now, Dede Westbrook is on thin ice. He has a lot more to prove than most other NFL rookies. That starts with being a professional off the field and then being a talented player who can help the Jaguars win on the field. Otherwise, the media and the NFL will be having a different conversation regarding a man who was once the best receiver in college football.