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It’s been a reasonably quiet offseason for the local NFL team, which is widely regarded as evidence of a culture change under second-year GM Scot McCloughan. Like a slacker finally pulling it together in his late 20s, the team has stowed its penchant for drama, tightening discipline and ceasing to blab about internal strife.
The injury suffered by LB Junior Galette just days before this week’s start of training camp obviously marks an end to that quiet streak, and it has the potential to trigger a regressive spiral into what have traditionally been the team’s worst tendencies.
The injury is a significant event on its own. The linebacker was signed late in the 2015 offseason after being cut by New Orleans in the face of “off-the-field issues,” which in this case is the socially acceptable euphemism for accusations of fighting a dude with a belt (in a 2013 incident captured on video), hitting a woman (in the same video), pushing a woman as he was trying to get her to leave (in a different incident), and apparently tussling with at least one Saints teammate.
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But Washington needed help rushing the passer, and this seemed like a potential buy-low opportunity to sign a young, productive player from the damaged-goods shelf.
So McCloughan had a meeting with Galette that the GM says included tears and sweat and lots of very dramatic-sounding eye contact, and based on that, along with character testimony from current D.C. players who knew Galette and assurances about the strong veteran leadership in the locker room, the team rolled the dice.
When a player on your hometown team is accused of crimes, there’s an emotional component to the reaction, a one-sided personal connection to the team that makes you extend the same “not him, couldn’t possibly be” faith to a player that you would to a family member. When the team signs someone who is already “troubled,” the feelings are more complicated, and sometimes more craven: Either you very quickly develop an imagined loyalty to a guy simply because he’s started using #HTTR in his tweets, or you mentally minimize the accusations and maximize the football impact to rationalize the signing.
Personally, I was able to do the latter with the Galette signing. The violent incidents in which he was apparently involved seemed less like systemic issues with women and more like impulse control problems—not great, but much easier to believe someone could grow out of. I’m not proud of thinking this way, but that’s following a sports team in 2016.
This latest injury, though, puts the team in the position to potentially double down on that same gamble to fill the Galette-shaped hole in the roster: Greg Hardy is sitting out there looking for work. If Galette had a checkered history, Hardy’s is grandmaster-level chess. Hardy allegedly beat up his girlfriend, threw her onto a couch covered with a pile of guns, and then very definitely failed to express contrition about the incident once he had served his suspension. He apparently was also a terrible, disruptive presence in the Dallas locker room last year, fighting with coaches and showing up late for meetings. Katie Nolan of Fox Sports probably summed it up best by dismissing Hardy as “a garbage human who [was] punished for being garbage.”
When he wasn’t being a garbage human, though, Hardy was also really good at sacking the quarterback. And that’s cause for concern.
In 2008, Washington lost defensive end Phillip Daniels to a knee injury on the first day of training camp, and immediately made an ill-fated trade for big-name pass-rusher Jason Taylor. Taylor was not a garbage human, but he also wasn’t a fit for the team. The next offseason, the team would sign Albert Haynesworth, a definite “garbage human” candidate, in the doomed hope that he would be non-garbage on the field.
That’s the way things used to go here, and signing Hardy would essentially be a combination of those two dreadful moves. When the news of Galette’s injury broke, conflicting reports on the team’s interest in Hardy quickly followed, and I devoutly hope the truth is that the team has no interest. Because there’s no real sweat-and-tears story that McCloughan could spin that would make me excited about a Hardy signing. There is no on-field success that would retroactively justify such a move.
If the team signs Greg Hardy, the message will not only be that the franchise cares more about football than about people, but that the culture hasn’t really changed at all, that the same terrible decisions are being made anew. Signing this particular garbage human would restore the team’s reputation as a garbage franchise.