- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Putting aside promotions sponsored by the Department of Defense this decade — the jet flyovers, uniformed color guards, unfurled field-length flags and other armed forces’ tie-ins — the NFL has commingled with military terminology for a long time.

Deep passes are bombs. Defenses blitz the quarterback. Offenses use ground attacks to set up air attacks. The game sometimes (but always ill-advisedly) is referred to as war.

When teams “go to battle,” trust is essential. Players are counted on to show up when they’re supposed to and do what they’re supposed to. Unreliable teammates quickly fall out of favor. Steady and dependable teammates earn one of the highest compliments:

He’s the type of guy you want in your foxhole.

Washington players must wonder: Is Su’a Cravens one of those guys?

The question isn’t about Cravens as a person. Not whether he’s the type you want to hang out with and grab a beer, watch the game, go to the movies, or attend the auto show.

It’s about Cravens as a football player. Not his talent, which is obvious, but his heart, which appears ambiguous.

Washington placed Cravens on the NFL’s reserve/left squad list in September after he unexpectedly informed the team — on the eve of the 2017 season — that he planned to retire. The 22-year-old safety applied to the NFL for reinstatement this week.

His reasons for walking away after a promising rookie season remain unclear. At the time, coach Jay Gruden said Cravens was “dealing with personal issues” and “we hope he gets well and figures out what he wants to do in life and we support him either way.”

In December, agent Fadde Mikhail said Cravens “received medical clearance to resume all football activities” after completing a post-concussion syndrome treatment program. “He is now asymptomatic and cleared to return back to all things football,” Mikhail said in the statement. “Su’a is excited and looking forward to the 2018 NFL season and the many years to follow.”

If Washington is uncertain about Cravens’ commitment, there’s good reason.

At USC, Cravens went missing for three days and considered quitting after sustaining an unknown injury. He also was AWOL for one day during his rookie season after injuring his biceps in Week 14. His abrupt departure in September — whether for physical, mental or emotional reasons — marked the second time Washington had to ponder his intentions.

The clock starts ticking on a third time if he returns.

Two camps must be convinced that Cravens can be trusted. Players might be easier than management, though both sides will require time.

“He’s a great player,” linebacker Mason Foster said Tuesday on The Team 980. “He’s made plays here, but I think it’s going to be a work in progress. You’re going to have to come back and show people what you’re made of and show people that your heart is really in it, or I don’t think anybody’s really going to welcome you back in with open arms like that.”

However, the front office might prefer to make the separation permanent, extracting whatever it can and letting another organization worry about Cravens’ dedication.

Trading him carries some risk. He’s on an economical rookie contract. The player/pick Washington gets in return might not pan out. Cravens could flourish with his new team and develop into a perennial Pro Bowl talent.

But there’s no guarantee that injuries, concussions or family matters won’t derail Cravens’ career or dampen his desire again.

I certainly understand if any man questions his continued participation in football. Does he really want to go through all that pain and suffering, subjecting his brain to jarring collisions with his skull? Is he truly at peace with the inherent risk of debilitating conditions later in life?

Players answer those questions every day. During workouts and practices, and in-between every snap during games.

Several players in recent years have said “no” and walked away, retiring far earlier than imaginable. Former San Francisco linebacker Chris Borland was 24 when health concerns led him to quit in 2015 after a successful rookie season. Former Buffalo linebacker A.J. Tarpley was 23 when he retired in 2016 after one season.

Cravens stunned Washington in September, proving himself unpredictable.

No matter what he says now, the team can’t be surprised if he leaves football again.

That’s why it’s better for all parties — management, players and Cravens — if he continues his career elsewhere. Washington won’t have to worry about his inclination and he won’t have to worry about his acceptance.

He should go somewhere and start afresh.

He should prove himself to new teammates in another foxhole.

• Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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