The Arizona Cardinals raised eyebrows all over the National Football League in April of 2013 when they selected defensive back Tyrann Mathieu in the third round of the NFL Draft.
Nobody doubted Mathieu’s talent and uncanny ability to create plays on the football field, however there was that little matter of Mathieu’s marijuana use — the habit that got the 2012 Heisman finalist booted from the LSU football team. In his own words, Mathieu lost count after 10 failed drug tests during his career in Baton Rouge.
All that (and an October 2012 arrest) was not enough to dissuade the Cardinals from bringing Mathieu to the desert. The team felt they had a good support system in place, headed by Mathieu’s former Bayou Bengals teammate, Patrick Peterson, who volunteered to play the role of mentor.
So far, so good.
Mathieu has been a model citizen so far in Arizona, both on and off the field. General manager Steve Keim gushes about the second-year pro, lauding his work ethic and diligence as he works his way back from a devastating knee injury suffered last December.
Mathieu is showing — at least through his first year — players with these issues can come back, be productive and buy into the team concept.
That begs the question: Can Daryl Washington be one of those players?
Washington, a 2012 Pro Bowler and arguably the best player on a strong Arizona defense, was slapped with a year-long suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. In an apology posted on Twitter Thursday, Washington admitted his issue is with marijuana.
This is the second time Washington has been suspended for his drug use, thus the harsh nature of the penalty. There are plenty of people calling for the Cardinals to cut Washington immediately — heck, a couple of them are guys who write for this website. I’m not sure I’m not in that category.
But there are a couple of issues that give me pause. First, would releasing Washington be hypocritical on the Cardinals’ part? More to the point, how could a team take a chance on a guy with a past as checkered as Mathieu’s one season and turn its back on a player who has been part of their family for four? Why wouldn’t Washington receive the same support that’s been afforded to others on the same roster? Because Mathieu’s indiscretions happened in a different city while he was wearing a different uniform?
And second, if the Cardinals, who are rightfully angry and disappointed over the player’s selfish actions (read Keim’s statement) do release Washington, are they opening themselves up to be dominated by him for years to come? There would be 31 NFL franchises ready to pounce should the Cardinals cut ties, Washington’s that good. He will play in the league again, why not in Arizona?
Again, I’m not saying the Cardinals should look the other way and continue to tolerate Washington’s seemingly ever-growing list of poor life choices.
But to cut him now would be reactionary at the very least, and I haven’t even talked about the massive financial ramifications Washington’s release would have. Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com does a nice job of illustrating those in this blog post.
It’s a tough spot for the Cardinals, no question. As a listener of Bickley and Marotta pointed out Friday, if they bring him back, they’re enablers. If they cut him, and he ends up starring for another team, it’s a great redemption story.
Keim is in a bad spot — and that’s before he has to try to find someone else to fill that massive void in the middle of his defense.