It’s clear: Braylon needs help

By Zac Jackson
Fox Sports Ohio
September 21, 2010

CLEVELAND — Here, the news that Braylon Edwards screwed up again came as no surprise.

Though DUI is certainly no laughing matter, Edwards’ return to the headlines here even brought more than a few chuckles. When the judge throws the book at him, will he catch it?

Such is Edwards’ relationship with Browns fans, just three years after his 16 touchdown receptions broke a long-standing franchise record. What he’s done since then is a lot like what he did late Monday night in New York City, when he reportedly was driving with a .16 blood-alcohol content when he was pulled over with a car full of passengers that included two Jets teammates.

Edwards makes bad choices, and he makes them brashly and consistently enough that we shouldn’t laugh, revel in them or wonder how a guy capable of being so smart could be so stupid. We should worry about him.

It’s always been about excess with Edwards, who was driving a Bentley before the Browns made him the third choice in the 2005 NFL Draft. It’s always been about the flashiest entrance, the snazziest clothes, and now it’s his oversized, made-for-HBO beard that he refers to on Twitter as “The Beard.” The Jets aren’t pleased that Their Guy and The Beard spent the night in jail, but they aren’t going to suspend him for this Sunday night’s battle for first place in the AFC East at Miami.

That’s actually understandable. The Jets are in the winning business; win or bust this year, in fact. Edwards lit up the Dolphins last year on national TV in his first game as a Jet — it’s no coincidence he gives supreme effort in prime-time games — and the Jets might need more big plays from him this Sunday night. It’s their right to discipline him (or not discipline him) how they see fit, but they’re not doing him any favors if he plays as much as a snap this week.

The lesson, then, would be what?. Edwards might be 27 and insanely rich, but he could stand to learn a lesson. Or 16. He’s a kid. He’s an immature, self-centered kid who worries not only about who’s having the party but who else is coming and which sunglasses he should wear. He craves attention even when he’s getting it, even in the increasingly rare case where his play demands it. He learned so much from the taunting penalty he got after his touchdown catch in last week’s win over New England that he blatantly taunted another Patriot later in the game after a two-point conversion catch. The referees simply didn’t see the second one, but Rex Ryan did. And the Jets coach muttered some of his famous four-letter words about it.

Braylon’s got talent. Braylon’s an idiot — and there’s a pattern of behavior that proves it.

No matter where you stand on the issue of professional athletes as role models, Edwards is one. He’s visible and involved with young kids; in fact, his Advance 100 program in Cleveland in which he pledged $1 million of his own money to send Cleveland Municipal School District kids to college might be the most charitable thing an athlete has ever done. He didn’t just a write checks, either. He met the kids and their parents, donated energy and resources not counted in the original $1 million number and even promised he’d answer the phone if any of them ever needed to call.

What would he say to them now?

In the spring of 2009, Edwards was partying with then-Browns teammate Donte Stallworth in Miami. Edwards had safely made it home by 7 the next morning when Stallworth hit and killed a pedestrian and was charged with DUI-manslaughter. It’s an incident that should have scared the stupid out of Edwards, who’d been ticketed for driving 120 MPH in a Cleveland suburb the previous year.

Well, a few months later Edwards was watching the beginning of training camp from the sideline due to a sore ankle, an injury no one would talk about publicly but one whispers indicated he’d suffered while playing pickup basketball. After one of those early practices a picture was posted to Twitter showing Edwards holding a liquor bottle and posing in front of a bar. He’d later claim the Twitter account in question was run by an impostor, but it seemed to be a whale of a coincidence.

It wasn’t coincidence that the fed-up Browns traded him early last October, about 30 hours after he punched a man outside a Cleveland nightclub. He later pleaded no contest to an aggravated assault charge and received a $1,000 fine, a suspended 180-day jail sentence and was placed on probation. Though he was clearly the Browns most dynamic playmaker, most fans weren’t sad to see him go. He often complained that Ohio fans didn’t give him a fair shake because of his Michigan roots, and he continued his anti-Cleveland campaign this summer when he got a New York Times writer to quote him trashing Cleveland. In the article his mother claimed he was “drowning” in Cleveland, “he was the most hated man there” and that the dropped pass stat “was created because of him.”

Actually, it was created long before a guy who was a Pro Bowl receiver in 2007 dropped more passes than any other player in 2008.

How did it get to this point? The notion that Edwards is a silver-spoon kid, the son of an NFL player who’s had an easy ride isn’t exactly true. He transferred high schools before getting his act together in the classroom and on the field but was never a four-star recruit. He butted heads with Lloyd Carr early in his Michigan career — surprise, surprise, right? — but now maintains a close relationship with Carr, earned the right to wear the storied #1 at the end of his UM career and endowed a $500,000 scholarship for future players who wear #1.

That he introduced himself as being from “Lloyd Carr’s University of Michigan” on Sunday Night Football last year was a very maize-and-blue thing to do. It was also very Braylon, him going out of his way to let people know how he feels about current coach Rich Rodriguez. Remember when he was fined for showing up late to a night-before-game Browns meeting because he chartered a helicopter to take him to part of the Ohio State-Michigan game?

What goes through his mind? Who knows? Apparently something like this: Having the job is great. The rules are for somebody else.

I’m sure some are ready to leap on their high horses and ride over his .16 BAC, wondering how irresponsible someone can be. Fact is that’s what happens when you start drinking multiple liquor drinks, as Internet pictures from a charity function early in the night show him doing. Do the math on the time he was arrested and think back to the receipts that show the amount of money Edwards spent on champagne, Grey Goose Vodka and Patron tequila the night of Stallworth’s arrest, and you’ve got someone who never should have reached for his keys —  especially since the Jets have a program in place that offers players safe and anonymous rides home.

But he chose to drive. One report said he repeatedly asked the officer who arrested him for a field sobriety test. When the officer told him that wasn’t part of the procedure in New York, he told him “they do in Michigan.”

We should worry about him. And not about the distraction he’s caused his team or the amount of free-agency money he might be costing himself assuming there’s football next spring. We should worry about his habits, his decisions and the turn his story has taken.

Braylon’s always been out for #1. But someone’s got to get ‘ol #1 on a better path.

Follow Zac Jackson on Twitter @FSOhioZJackson