For as long as Doug Pederson is the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, no matter how many wins (and losses) his teams accrue, no matter the volume and frequency of pre-game and post-game and preseason and postseason press conferences he holds, his tenure in this city will be tethered to a quote he gave on Aug., 16, 2016.
Pederson said that before he had coached a single game in the NFL. The Eagles are in the business of football. Never forget that. It’s this logic — this quote — that has Joe Mixon on the team’s draft board this week.
Pederson’s full quote went like this:
“Listen, I want to preface – we’re not in the rehabilitation business. At the same time, we feel like with the staff that I’ve assembled on offense, with the personnel staff upstairs, we can bring guys in that might have had, you know, a little bit of a history, and we can help these players. Not only become young men, but become good football players.”
It was a disastrous comment — referencing the troubled past of then newly-acquired wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham — and one that went largely unnoticed outside tight Eagles football circles. After all, Pederson isn’t a judge or a lawyer or a certified counselor tasked with mentoring young adults who commit crimes of abuse. At least not that we know of. Pederson is a football coach, so when he said he feels he can bring in guys who have had “you know, a little bit of a history” he was speaking in a football context.
Enter Mixon. Possibly.
The Eagles have been linked with the Oklahoma running back leading up to the NFL Draft and this week, conversations about Mixon have expanded on talk radio, social media, etc. Look, the dude gets headlines, surely, and where he goes on draft night (read: probably night two of the draft) will be huge news.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper said this week he thinks Mixon will go in the second round. “Mixon would have been a first-(rounder) had it not been for that serious off-the-field issue,” Kiper said, via ESPN’s Detroit Lions page. “Now I think he’s solidified a second-round possibility as probably the third or fourth running back to come off the board.”
“That serious off-the-field issue.” That’s how football people refer to hitting a woman in the face.
On July 25, 2014, Joe Mixon — then a freshman at Oklahoma — was involved in a verbal altercation that turned physical, resulting in him punching a woman in her face, breaking four bones. Mixon was charged with misdemeanor assault and was suspended for his freshman year. When reinstated, he repeatedly refused to answer questions about the incident, citing a civil lawsuit. The school defended that decision, and despite there being a video tape of the incident, the local police opted not to release the tape while Mixon was still a member of the Oklahoma football program.
In December, 2016, the tape was finally released.
The NFL is a much different place than it was in early 2014. Mixon’s assault happened just days before the tape was released of then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his now-wife in the head. Since then, the NFL has — let’s be real — bungled its way through several rounds of domestic violence legislation before coming to its current system of punishment under NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s personal conduct policy. In short, domestic violence will not be tolerated in the NFL. For 10 games. Unless it’s really bad. Or there’s a tape. Then it might be longer.
Or, unless the player was in college. Then it might only hurt his draft stock a round or two.
“At the end of the day,” Mixon told SI.com’s Albert Breer in March, “I’d never gotten in trouble before that point, and never after. You can’t judge someone on a mistake they made. I’m sure you’ve made mistakes, I’m sure everyone’s made mistakes. It’s what you do after and what you learn from it. It’s not like it’s been a string of things after that incident. It was a one-time thing. I made a bad decision, I made a bad mistake.”
Mixon, who refused to publicly apologize for years after the assault has been on a tour of contrition leading up to the draft, talking to teams and media in an effort to show he has grown as a person, worthy enough to give him millions of dollars. And maybe he has. NFL teams have full-service personnel departments tasked with uncovering that truth right now. For the Eagles, though, that might not even matter.
Remember, the Eagles are not in the rehabilitation business. And they need a running back.
In March at the NFL owners meetings, Jeffrey Lurie was asked about the Eagles possibly drafting Mixon. “I’ll say this,” he said, via ESPN.com’s Tim McManus. “We’ve been an organization that’s given players a second chance. However, we’ve also been an organization that really values character, OK?”
Only, the Eagles have had several players — Green-Beckham, for one — who were brought into the fold with questions looming about their character. Green-Beckham, remember, was arrested multiple times for small drug offenses in college before being kicked off the Missouri football team after breaking into his girlfriend’s home, kicking in a door and throwing someone down several stairs. No charges were filed after the victim failed to cooperate.
But that was in college, before he was with the Eagles.
Nigel Bradham’s transgressions weren’t in college, nor were they before he came to the Eagles. He was arrested after punching a cabana boy (sorry, cabana man) in the face last summer, breaking his nose. Later in the season, Bradham was arrested after he brought a loaded gun into an airport in Florida. He was not disciplined.
Lurie can tout the fact the team cut receiver Josh Huff after he was caught speeding over a bridge to Jersey with weed, a gun and hollow-point bullets in his car. They did do that.
“I just think that you see so much in society today with all the social media,” Pederson said at the NFL owners meetings in March, “with all the issues that players or the nation has, and you’re looking for guys that have passion, one, for the game, but they also have a passion for just being good, upstanding human beings.”
That’s a decidedly better answer than “we’re not in the rehabilitation process,” but it’s still not great. And it also got worse.
“We’re always trying to better our roster; I’ve said that a bunch,” Pederson also said when asked about Mixon. “With a player like that, those are things where we do our homework on these players, and you want to make sure it’s the right fit. He’s an explosive player, he’s dynamic, and I know that someone will give him an opportunity.”
Someone will. The question is…will the Eagles?
If they do, it will come with the understanding that Mixon is never going to be able to outrun this story. Just Wednesday, reports connected him to another assault, back when he was in high school, after an old tweet surfaced of a man accusing him of striking his daughter. That man has recanted the claim to both Mixon’s lawyers and Pro Football Talk.
And yet, still, according to Jimmy Kempski at the Philly Voice, Mixon remains on the Eagles’ draft board, despite reports he’s been taken off their list of options.
Josh Norris of NBC Sports said on PFT Live this week that five teams might be most likely to take Mixon. The Eagles are on his list:
One of today’s segments from PFT.
An in-depth look at Joe Mixon’s current draft projection, including realistic landing spots. pic.twitter.com/rYY6oGtWKG
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) April 19, 2017
Odds being what they are, there’s a one in 32 chance — the number of NFL teams — the Eagles will draft Mixon. Narrowing down to just the teams who will take a running back in the first three rounds, and those who don’t already have someone of Mixon’s skillset on the roster, it’s safe to cut that in half. And yet, the teams willing to roll the dice on Mixon that high in the draft are much slimmer.
Until they’re not, the Eagles are definitely still on that list and maybe the most likely team to take him. How the city responds seems, in a word, inconsequential to the franchise. Unless he’s scoring touchdowns, which is really all that matters to those running the team.