FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – It will be the first real test of the Todd Bowles era, how the New York Jets first-year head coach handles a situation with Sheldon Richardson that is nothing short of baffling. Above wins and playoff dreams, Bowles must make the tough decision to suspend Richardson for not just the good of the team but the good of the player.
The news on Thursday that Richardson was arrested more than two weeks ago in his hometown in Missouri is a case of an athlete run amok. There was the excessive speeding, the police evasion, running through a red light – all things that are certainly not good – well, downright bad. Then there is the presence of a handgun under his seat, the scent of marijuana on Richardson as well as on the two passengers in the car and the fact that a third passenger was a 12-year old child.
It is entirely puzzling that Richardson would be involved in this incident, just 12 days after the NFL had suspended him four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. It is a case of dumb meeting dumber.
And now enter Bowles who must handle this first tough situation of his head coaching career with the ultimate care. How he deals with this sends a message not just to Richardson but to the entire Jets locker room. Not just for this training camp or this very season but in fact for the entirety of his tenure with this organization.
For in Richardson, there is a divinely talented player, one who made the Pro Bowl last year and is entering his prime in his third season in the league. But he clearly is a liability, the type of athlete who is capable of the sublime on the field and is dazed and confused off of it.
And it is a pipe dream to think that Richardson is just some lost and confused little boy. This is a professional athlete who stood before the media on Thursday, roughly an hour before the news of his arrest began to filter through, and spoke of being a changed man. He painted the picture of a man willing to reform and made no mention of this arrest three weeks ago.
He said that he won't make a mistake like this again, that he could have said “No.” When asked about breaking the cycle in his life that led to the NFL's suspension (keep in mind, no one knew of his arrest at this point in the afternoon), he bristled and answer “I ain't no dope fiend.”
Turns out that he's just a fiend.
But 12 days after he was suspended by the league, Richardson decided to risk not just millions of dollars and his own life with the stupid antics that led to his arrest, but also the life of a 12-year old child in his vehicle. Why anyone would consider that a high-speed chase let alone the presence of marijuana and a hand gun was appropriate near a minor is clearly beyond the realm of good judgment.
For his own good, Richardson must be forced to sit out this season, a decision that Bowles and company must come to quickly. For Richardson's mental health is in question here and that must be the priority of the Jets. Fans of an organization demand wins from their teams. But as human beings we must look at Richardson as not the tremendous athlete and a former first round pick but as someone desperately in need of help.
We must stop being fans in this situation and Bowles must not be just a head coach, he must be that big brother who must be lacking in Richardson's life.
In Bowles, the Jets have a disciplinarian. He's a former player in this league with a Super Bowl ring. Bowles was a winner and wants to bring that winning way to a franchise without a postseason appearance since 2010.
But Bowles made the NFL the hard way, from Temple, a minnow in the sea that is college football and as an undrafted rookie free agent. He turned that into a solid career based on hard work and intensity. He cut no corners and always did the right thing.
Now he has a player in Richardson with immense talent but zero common sense who needs to learn those very same life lessons. Bowles can be the one to show Richardson the way but the Jets head coach must not value the player more than the man.