It’s rarely a good sign when an NFL team’s latest acquisition is addressed by a statement from the league office: “The matter is under review. He is currently permitted to sign and participate in activities including games.”
That’s what happens when a team scavenges from the convicted-felons-awaiting-sentencing list for emergency hires.
A good football player with a bad record, LB Mychal Kendricks — taken one spot ahead of Bobby Wagner in the second round of the 2012 draft — was signed by the Seahawks Friday after Wagner (groin) joined K.J. Wright (knee) on the injury list for the Monday night game in Chicago.
Whether either or both play, the potential shorthandedness was compounded by the fact that rookie Shaquem Griffin wasn’t ready to be a starter Sunday in Denver in place of Wright. When Griffin was pulled, his replacement, Austin Calitro, also is a rookie, an undrafted free agent who spent 2017 shuttling among five NFL practice squads.
The linebacker unit as thin as the Seahawks’ hide needs to be thick, for taking Kendricks.
A starter for the Eagles’ Super Bowl champions last year, Kendricks, 27, pleaded guilty in federal court Sept. 6 to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and one count of securities fraud. The feds said he was an inside trader, giving a Goldman Sachs broker and friend some cash, $10,000 worth of Eagles tickets and access to lavish parties in exchange for non-public, market-shifting information.
The charges said Kendricks made $1.2 million via four transactions over two years, along with co-defendant Damilare Sonoiki, 27, a Harvard grad who left Wall Street and is now a TV comedy writer.
In March, primarily for salary cap reasons, the Eagles let Kendricks, the Pac-12 defensive player of the year in 2011 at Cal, go into free agency, despite the fact that he played 62 percent of the snaps during the Eagles’ playoff run. He signed with the Cleveland Browns. But they dumped him Aug. 29 when news broke of the charges.
No such bashfulness was apparent for the Seahawks, who don’t mind taking a player that the Browns, the nuclear waste site for the NFL, found too radioactive.
The NFL has yet to rule on whether Kendricks has violated the league’s personal conduct policy, although reports have said a ruling, if any, won’t happen before Monday’s game. Then again, this is a white-collar crime, perhaps the sort of misdeed more familiar and acceptable to NFL policymakers.
Not saying they will let him skate, but since his sentencing isn’t until Jan. 24, the NFL could dawdle along through the regular season before sussing out a sanction for a misdeed that has no NFL precedent.
Kendricks may have helped himself with the NFL and the Seahawks because he volunteered the guilty plea and admitted his error in court. The judge asked him why he made his decision.
“Because I know I was wrong,” philly.com reported he said. “I know that I made the decision to accept information, secret information, and it wasn’t the right thing to do.”
The federal judge said she wanted to be sure that Kendricks was not coerced into pleading guilty.
“I’m making the decision because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
The Seahawks signed him to a one-year contract reportedly near the veterans’ minimum after the season’s first week, which means that if the NFL does suspend him for all or part of the season, the club is under no obligation to pay him for games he doesn’t play.
The maximum sentence is 25 years, but ESPN reported that federal sentencing guidelines say 30 to 37 months is typical for a first-time offender.
So as he awaits his fate, he’s a football bargain, especially considering that Pro Football Focus graded him for the 2017 season at 79.9, or 13th among 100 qualifying linebackers.
It’s possible that his inexpensive signing could be considered a steal. But given the circumstances, that expression doesn’t seem quite right, does it?
What it can be called is a bad idea.
It’s true that much of American civic life has deteriorated lately into a moral relativism, thanks in large part to a president who knows no bottom when it comes to ethical behavior.
Kendricks’ guilt is not in dispute. But his crime isn’t as visceral as domestic or sexual assault, so outrage likely will be competing with the everybody-does-it rationalization. In fact, everyone doesn’t do it. It’s a lame cop-out.
The crime is a fresh one for the NFL code, but laws against insider trading have been around a long time. Congress passed specific legislation against it in 1934 after the stock-market crash in 1929.
Cheating the stockholding public is part of a larger malaise of the normalization of corruption that is making civic life increasingly toxic. Is that the NFL’s fault? No. But there is an opportunity here to make a point.
The NFL hates being under the cultural microscope every time someone in its world does something dirty. But that’s part of the price to be paid for being the colossus astride the nation’s retail pop culture. The NFL is free to try to abdicate, but there was a belief this off-season that the NFL wanted to grow its fan base, not erode it.
Kendricks needs to be suspended for the season, then reviewed for a further suspension after sentencing. And the Seahawks should be embarrassed to have put the league in the position.
Apparently the threat of 0-2 is a more significant number than $1.2 million in ill-gotten gains.