The Associated Press should have stripped Brian Cushing of his 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and left it at that.
Instead, it chose a more diplomatic way of addressing the fact the Houston Texans linebacker won the honor with artificial assistance, which led to the four-game suspension that he'll begin serving at the start of the 2010 season.
I get that the AP's administrators don't want to give even the slightest impression that they're in the business of disciplining athletes who run afoul of the rules. That's up to the teams and leagues to handle.
Maualuga weighs in
Yet, this is a prestigious award, and out of respect for past recipients and as a stronger cautionary tale for future ones, it would have been totally reasonable to make an example of Cushing -- to let everyone know that the 39 votes he received out of a possible 50 came under false circumstances.
It's true that the second vote AP conducted on Wednesday, with Cushing still on the ballot and retaining the award, made for a more transparent process because voters will know something that had been a secret between September -- when Cushing reportedly tested positive for a banned substance -- and the recent revelation of his suspension after his appeal failed. But it doesn't change the fact that his rookie performance will always be connected with a chemical boost.
Although it's entirely possible (maybe even likely) that Cushing won't win in the re-vote, he shouldn't even have the opportunity to be selected again. A suspension should equal disqualification, just as it will, according to league rules, for Cushing's Pro Bowl eligibility next season.
I'm not part of AP's voting panel. If I was, I would have voted for Cushing as the league's top defensive rookie and also for an outside linebacker spot on the wire service's All-Pro squad (that position, too, will be subject to a second vote on Wednesday). Watching Cushing perform last season, I was convinced that he was a bigger difference-maker than any of the other candidates, and that he deserved the spot he received on the AFC Pro Bowl roster ahead of more experienced linebackers.
Now, I am having a real problem saying that Cushing "deserved" any postseason honors.
Cushing isn't the first player to be caught cheating. He isn't the first player who decided he needed to turn to the medicine cabinet to maximize his output. The sad news is that he won't be the last.
Was Cushing destined for this to happen? Rumors of steroid use dogged him in high school and college. Just before the 2009 draft, a report surfaced that the former USC standout had tested positive for steroids at the NFL Scouting Combine. Cushing denied those allegations, and nothing more was said about it … until now.
The confidentiality of the league's substance-abuse policy keeps most of us in the dark until there's a suspension. In Cushing's case, it came too late for the original vote that named him the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Is Russell ready for next role?
He was the underachieving top overall draft pick. He was the unfocused, undisciplined, uninspired disappointment. Make that colossal disappointment.
As an out-of-work quarterback, Russell is seen in a far different light. Sure, he's still a bust, but he's no longer in the position of letting down his coaches, teammates or Al Davis, who paid him $39 million. But now, he has a chance to go somewhere else and work to reach his potential without the pressures of being a franchise savior.
Multiple league insiders are confident that Russell will play somewhere this season; a No. 1 overall choice with a big arm is virtually assured of getting a second chance. They just don't expect that he'll do so as a starter.
And that's the dilemma when it comes to analyzing Russell. Backup quarterbacks need to step on the field at a moment's notice. They must be mentally prepared to do something that they usually don't have sufficient time to get themselves ready to do because the starter gets the lion's share of practice snaps.
Does that sound like Russell, the man who never seemed to take the responsibility of being a quarterback seriously? The man who seemed to occupy the job, rather than truly embrace it? The man who apparently had no interest in the tremendous amount of work that was necessary for him and his team to succeed?
None of this is news to general managers and coaches around the NFL. They know there were other factors behind Russell's demise with the Raiders, including changes in coaches, offensive coordinators, and play-callers, and a feud between his first coach (Lane Kiffin, who, according to Davis, didn't want Russell) and Davis. But the question is, can they trust him to be a backup?
What team will sign him is anyone's guess. Logic suggests that one of the clubs that still has a gaping hole on its quarterback depth chart (i.e. Buffalo, Arizona and San Francisco) might consider picking him up.
Still, it's hard to see a real fit anywhere.
Brady's remarks telling
Tom Brady seemed to say plenty when he recently told Sports Illustrated's Peter King that he and his New England Patriot teammates have "got to start listening more to coach (Bill) Belichick. We've got young kids who are good players. We've got the best football coach of all time. He's got the answers. We as a team have to take the teaching and the coaching we're being given."
On the other hand, one can't help but wonder whether Belichick is losing some of his effectiveness as a leader. If, as Brady pointed out, Belichick really is the "best football coach of all time," wouldn't that be enough reason for every player on the team to listen to him? As a leader in his own right, Brady is supposed to speak up on such matters. But does Belichick really need him, or anyone else, to reinforce the importance of accepting his teaching and coaching?
Low road vs. high road
As a highly accomplished veteran entering his 12th season, McNabb merited better treatment from a former teammate with all of two years of experience. Why Jackson would be so foolish as to give McNabb additional incentive to beat his former team in the two times he is scheduled to face the Eagles during the regular season is something that coach Andy Reid and some teammates must be wondering about.
Meanwhile, McNabb took the high road, telling reporters at Washington's recent minicamp, "I had 11 great years and I'm moving on with my life, so whoever may say things when I'm gone, more power to them. But it's not making you look like a bigger man."
No, it isn't.