The NFL offseason is fully underway, meaning “Lying Season” has well and truly commenced. Like the similarly named Robbing Season, the second installment of the excellent Atlanta TV show, Lying Season keeps us glued to our screens. Where Lying Season and Robbing Season differ is that Donald Glover’s masterpiece is fictional, whereas the NFL’s Lying Season has real life consequences that are starkly visible.
The most obvious example is the recent trade of Odell Beckham Jr. At the NFL Combine on February 27th, Gettleman made the reasonable point that “we didn’t sign Odell to trade him.” Two weeks later—March 12th—the star wideout became a Cleveland Brown for a 1st, 3rd and Jabrill Peppers. The Giants swallowed a $16 million dead cap hit for 2019; Gettleman essentially lied to try and receive the best possible deal. We saw how disastrous Antonio Brown’s behavior was for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Front Office. His value plummeted.
John Schneider, notoriously cagey, used the NFL combine cunningly regarding the kicker position. Asked about Sebastian Janikowski, Schneider gave a detailed answer on talking with Sebastian Janikowski’s representatives. He then mentioned the latest addition to the position: Sam Ficken. It looked clear that Ficken would be kicking. Then, with free agency open, the Seahawks did something no one expected; they signed Jason Myers to a big deal. Schneider’s delicate subterfuge ensured Seattle didn’t tip their interest in Myers or overly raise the price of their new kicker.
Motivations for bending the truth aren’t just front office-based. It’s been alleged that certain player agents, in representing their client, will take extreme measures to see their stock rise and the image of others fall. In an October 2010 expose from Sports Illustrated, former agent Josh Luchs linked Mel Kiper with disgraced agent Gary Wichard. The key quote from SI’s article was this: “some people suspect that Mel ranks players more favorably if they are Gary’s clients.” Kiper denied all accusations.
Former Seattle Seahawks defensive end Lawrence Jackson, a 2008 Tim Ruskell first-round pick, launched fresh allegations at Kiper in January 2018 after Jason Whitlock tweeted about the wider issue of agents paying for favorable coverage:
Mel Kiper has greased pockets. That’s why the big board always has some whaaaaat names. I had an agent promise to get me atop his big board. https://t.co/gC51fCKCpH— Lawrence Jackson (@LoJackson94) January 28, 2018
That’s what an agent offered me.— Lawrence Jackson (@LoJackson94) January 28, 2018
All these elements to Lying Season bring us to Florida EDGE rusher Jachai Polite and the furor over his combine. Even before Polite had run in Indianapolis, rumors over “maturity issues” started to leak on websites like Walterfootball. Yet before the combine started, the only reports of such concerns came from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler.
Twitter lit up with quotes of Polite’s interview at the podium that, removed from context, matched the maturity concern reports.
#Florida EDGE Jachai Polite said that when he met with the 49ers at the Combine, they didn’t even really talk football with him at all. “They just bashed me the whole time... Idk.”— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) March 2, 2019
Except, when you watched the interview where these quotes were taken from, Polite looked poorly advised and inexperienced above anything else. His most worrying answer was the one where he revealed that he didn’t watch film on himself. Even then, his approach to the media was honest and open; a refreshing style in the world of well-trained, robotic responses. Teams might dislike that, yet it’s important to note the place Polite was coming from.
Florida pass rusher Jachai Polite "I feel like I'm the most athletic guy in this class' 19 formal meetings, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Steelers, Titans among them pic.twitter.com/cVBwatUsdc— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 2, 2019
Some have said reading the exchange makes it seem worse than the video shows. I’d agree. pic.twitter.com/DySHyjdAEH— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) March 3, 2019
Yahoo Sports’ Kimberley Martin reported team officials told her Polite came off “disinterested” during meetings. As a counter; there is little motivation for teams to be positive about a player at this stage in the process; they don’t want players on their board rising.
Meanwhile, tweets like the one below need critiquing:
The Packers’ brass interviewed Jachai Polite, took a moment to look around the room at each other, then signed every edge rusher they could get their hands on.— James Thomas (@JamesThomasHT) March 12, 2019
The Packers had a massive need at the EDGE rusher position; it was their defense’s Achilles heel last year. The most successful Free Agency is one that fills any weaknesses, enabling teams to go Best Player Available in the draft. Green Bay used their cap space. They corrected their biggest weakness, acquiring two effective outside pass rushers. They can still take Polite.
Furthermore, the fact a player interviewed with a certain team at the combine feels overstated. For scouts to do their due diligence and for the combine to be worthwhile, pretty much every prospect invited to the event meets with a team at some point. It’s part of the process.
The biggest concern about Polite’s combine was him adding bad, sloppy weight and then running slow. After measuring in at 6ft 2 5/8 258lbs, he jumped a disappointing 32” vertically and ran a 1.71 10-yard split on his 4.84 40-yard-dash, pulling up with an injured hamstring and sitting out the rest of the drills. According to NFL Network’s Kimberley Jones, Polite had been dealing with this injury for 10 days. You just need to watch the tape: Polite has get-off and is fast. I eagerly await his pro-day on March 27th.
When Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller revealed some scouts had called Polite’s injury “bulls—t,” the same caution applied to Martin’s quote is relevant here. Teams gain zero advantage by gushing about a player they like. But, when something bad happens, feeding negative lines can be advantageous. It can cause a good player to fall. The knock-on effect is bad players rising.
While Combine warning signs like the ones Reuben Foster showed proved correct, Polite’s “worst NFL combine of all-time” should be taken with a Kosher-sized grain of salt. There’s a reason Foster fell to #31; teams had done their homework. We are not privy to such evaluation tools, and therefore can only judge what we see. What known off-the-field did Foster have pre-draft? He was kicked out of the NFL combine after a verbal altercation with a male hospital employee and a failed drugs test. Polite? An inexperienced interview from a 20-year-old, branded as immature at Florida by what was mostly a terrible situation and team.
I like Polite’s tape overall and, for the reasons outlined above, think his combine was overblown to a suspicious degree. If he falls out of the first round, then teams have used their deeper knowledge to make an informed decision. And/or Lying Season has taken full effect. I’d be wildly shocked by his fall given I predicted pre-combine that no Seahawk-y EDGE rusher would drop to them after trade backs.
If Polite has a career derailed by poor application, the maturity concerns will be proved valid. Football character is massively important for how a player performs at the next level. I just feel only NFL teams can garner the insight needed to make such a judgement. Furthermore, it’s important to remember we are deep into Lying Season and Lying Season might be the biggest impact on Polite’s stock.