RICHMOND — For about two hours on Thursday night, after Scot McCloughan vetted Junior Galette at the Washington Redskins’ downtown training camp hotel, the free-agent pass rusher stopped on the way to his room to chat with a host of players who didn’t care enough to ask about his multiple off-field issues.
Some knew of Galette’s troubles — his charges on a domestic violence incident in January that were later dropped; his appearance in a video uncovered in June that appears to show him brandishing a belt on a beach — and broached the topic long enough for Galette to dismiss it and steer the conversation in another direction.
Most, though, knew of Galette’s reputation as an elite pass rusher, one who had 12 sacks last season for the New Orleans Saints and 10 sacks the year before. They knew of his athleticism, of his speed, of his passion for the game, but gave little thought that the issues they failed to probe could end up preventing him from doing those things for a significant portion of the season.
Galette signed a one-year contract worth $745,000 the next morning — a deal that Galette’s agent, Alvin Keels, felt compelled to point out “isn’t about the money,” because “Junior feels that he has a lot to prove both on and off of the field.”
That’s not the case for the Redskins, who took a gamble on Galette not only because he came cheap, but because, as is always the case, nothing matters more than winning.
“With anything comes a little bit of risk, and I’m not coming in here saying he’s going to be a model citizen, but I think we’ve got enough great guys in that locker room to help show him the way,” said cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who was among the players who spoke to Galette that night. “I think he’s going to make everybody on this team a little bit better, and I felt like it was a no-brainer, his talent.”
Galette’s issues transcend the offseason. He decided to transfer from Temple after his junior season because a cousin who had been staying with him was caught stealing two laptops from a dormitory. Last weekend, after Galette was informed of his pending release by the Saints, a lengthy rant directed at the organization was posted on a Twitter account purportedly belonging to Galette’s girlfriend.
The video, which was uploaded to the Internet nearly two years ago, curiously surfaced only once the Saints began trying to rid themselves of Galette and the albatross four-year, $41.5 million contract they handed him last September. It shows a man who appears to be Galette fighting off several people, including a woman, by swinging the belt.
McCloughan saw the video, called it “scary” and said he got the real story. He declined to share on Sunday what that story was, but clarified he’s not hiding it because he’s trying to protect Galette.
He’s also not willing to label Galette as a bad guy, which was an idea that was presented to McCloughan on Sunday. In April, when addressing the Redskins’ signing of Chris Culliver, a cornerback mired in his own legal troubles, McCloughan said he would not “embarrass the organization” by signing “so-called ‘bad guys.’”
“Being new here and knowing where we’re going and what we want to build, I’m not going to bring a bad guy in here,” McCloughan reiterated on Sunday. “I know he’s a really good football player, which I really respect, but I’m not going to bring a bad guy in here. I will not give on that at all.
“I sat with him for two hours and it was very intense,” he continued. “Very intense — I mean, to the point where we were almost face-to-face, telling him what I expected, and if he can’t bring it, then we don’t want you.”
The Redskins have made significant progress in ridding themselves of character issues. Former coach Mike Shanahan, replaced by Jay Gruden prior to last season, did not want questionable talents in the locker room. Gruden, who has kept that statute virtually intact, said the team is united enough to police troubled players.
Chemistry, though, is something that cannot merely be created. Hall, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, inside linebacker Perry Riley and defensive end Kedric Golston are the only key contributors who have been around for more than four seasons. Counting Galette, the unit will have five new starters this season; at this stage, the defense is still a collection of scattered parts, not a cohesive unit.
A year ago, the cases of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy, all charged with domestic violence-related issues, were national headlines. Rice remains unsigned, but Peterson returned to the Minnesota Vikings after his suspension and Hardy, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, joined the Dallas Cowboys in the offseason.
Perhaps, already, the scourge of similar issues has desensitized the league. Galette, while a productive player, was not a household name — arguably not even in New Orleans — and his tribulations didn’t gain that same level of traction. Had the Redskins tried to bring in Rice, maybe a chat in the hotel hallway wouldn’t have been about how many yards Rice would gain.
Then again, the Redskins don’t need those players as badly as they need Galette. According to coaches, Trent Murphy had a strong offseason, but he was a non-factor as a rookie. Preston Smith, a rookie drafted in the second round this spring, has been wholly underwhelming.
Neither player bolsters a pass rush more than Galette — but then again, Galette might not even get the opportunity to do that. The chance remains that he’s suspended by the league for his actions, meaning the Redskins could have him on the active roster for just 10 games. If he’s productive, signing him to another deal after the season carries even more risk.
“I’m blessed to be here,” Galette said Friday. “It’s just a humbling experience I’ve been through and I’m just ready to play ball.”
At its core, Galette’s problem boils down to one characterization of football players in general — one that McCloughan perpetuated on Sunday. “All players have issues,” he said. “We all have some kind of issue. We’ve all made mistakes.”
Some mistakes are more serious than others. For the Redskins’ sake, they must be absolutely certain they didn’t make one.