Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and the Defensive Rookie of the Year Re-Vote
By Guest Author, Andy Tisdel…
Let me just say it: I don’t think that Brian Cushing’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award, as voted on by the AP, should be going to a re-vote (as it currently is). Nor do I think Clay Matthews should win, should it come to that kind of a re-vote.
Brian Cushing had a hell of a year. He had one of the best years of any defensive rookie this decade, ranking sixth overall in tackles and picking off four passes and defending 14–by far the most of any linebacker in either category (this year). On a defense that ranked 13th overall in yards given up, Cushing was a leader on the field. He subsequently ran away with the DROY award, receiving 39 votes from the AP. Nobody else was even close; Buffalo Bills safety Jarius Byrd got six and Green Bay Packer Clay Matthews had three, out of fifty.
Now Cushing has tested positive for using a “nonsteroidal” banned substance. And he stands to lose a lot more than just an award or tw0. Yes, it could cost him $2.6 million dollars in incentives and escalator clauses (You can read the full story on NFL.COM). We don’t know what that substance was. Nobody seems to, even Texans owner Robert McNair.
“The club is left completely out of the loop on that,” McNair said. “We’re not even notified…” and later in the article, “we don’t know what any of the details are, we don’t know what doctors he may have consulted with, we don’t know what evidence that the league might have had…” Well if the Texans’ own team owner doesn’t know what the hell is going on, how does the AP? What is the substance he used? Was it only once, or repeatedly? By accident or on purpose? Was it something like the StarCaps of Pat and Kevin Williams’ fame, that didn’t actually affect their play but still merited a suspension? If so, would it be remotely appropriate to deprive him of the award on the grounds it affected his play, or is it just a reputation thing?
The AP is moving far too quickly on this for my taste, which argues for the latter case: they smelled the smoke of the positive test–which Cushing still disputes–and decided to dump him as fast as they could. But with all these questions yet to be answered, I have no idea how the AP thinks it has grounds to take the award away from Cushing–and certainly not, again, after the kind of season he had.
But even if they feel they have to yank the award, why bother with a revote? Why not just award the thing to Jarius Byrd? I’m no Byrd fan–I think his string of games where he had six picks in three games was more luck than skill, and that’s what vaulted him into the ESPN spotlight so necessary for award-getting–but he got the next most votes, fair and square.
As a Packer fan through and through, I’d love to see Matthews get the thing, but that’s how the voters voted, rightly or wrongly. Performing a recount like this almost makes the award meaningless anyway; whoever gets it will be dragging an asterisk around. “Oh, yeah, that was the year Brian Cushing won it, BUT…” I think the best solution if they’re really going to strip Cushing of DROY honors is to not hand them out at all. If Cushing was the best of all rookies, axing him from the list does not make Byrd or Matthews the best that year, which is what this is supposed to be about anyway.
Okay. I’ve had my rant, now I’m putting in one more, larger question before I wrap this thing up and go to bed. Here it is:
Why the hell do we even care what he took?
Seriously. Why do we care? Baseball fans and the baseball administration get themselves in a real tizzy over this sort of thing. MLB still hasn’t gotten over the steroid scandals. That was in what, 2003? Dragged on until when? The sense of cheating goes a lot deeper in that sport, perhaps because it’s supposed to be so quintessentially American and cheating there is more wrong then cheating elsewhere? I just don’t know.
But in the NFL, it’s more of a fire-and-forget system. You serve your suspension or you pay your fine and the league, and even most fans, forget about it. ‘Spygate’ was the biggest scandal in sports a couple years ago; who brings it up now? Julius Peppers and Shawne Merriman both got suspensions handed down, as that same article helpfully reminds us. Who remembers those?
Baseball, every time a steroid-tainted player’s name shows up, we hear all about it. But as football fans, we all know there’s drug use out there, and illicit crap that gets around the bans and the tests. The bulk that some of those players have defies all common sense; we think, “that couldn’t have happened naturally”. So we’re not really surprised when a player turns out to have ‘juiced’, nor are we outraged.
I think the get-ahead-by-any-means credo in the NFL, the hours upon hours of obsessive film watching and game planning and strategizing and maybe the need to find any kind of edge over the other guy, justifies part of it for us. I could be totally wrong. But whatever the reason, we’re just a lot more okay with NFL athletes using drugs.
So why do we care about Brian Cushing and his non-steroidal, vaguely defined, banned substance? A four-game suspension, okay, fine, no reason not to hand that down if he did violate the NFL policy. But the move by the AP of actually going to a re-vote, of taking away the award that Cushing won and giving it to someone apparently not as worthy, I don’t buy any of that. Let him keep it or give it to Byrd or don’t give it to anyone, but holding a full recount is exactly what the AP shouldn’t be doing. It’s not as if there was voter fraud or anything that invalidated the procedure, for Chrissake, only the result.
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Jersey Al Bracco is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com. | Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Defensive Rookie of the Year