There's no questioning that Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant, one of the longest tenured Eagles behind Trent Cole and Todd Herremans, is a strong voice in the locker room. Avant's on-field contributions suffered in 2013, but the team valued his off-the-field contributions. Avant leads the team's bible study, mentors rookies like former Eagle Russell Shepard, and sets an example of how to be a good teammate. The Eagles veteran knows his contributions aren't always enough, however, and this is why he's called on the NFL to be more involved with locker room culture.
"Commissioner, we need you to set standards. We need you to make it black and white. We need standards, and if we don’t meet them, we shouldn’t be here." In the past 60 days, Goodell, I’m told, has met with more than 30 players, asking them how to make the locker room a more tolerant, more professional place. Players like Avant have told Goodell what he needs to hear. (He confirmed to me Sunday night that he asked Goodell to set standards for the players in the league, so publicly they’re not all painted with the Incognito brush.)
The issue of locker room culture is a hot topic due to the findings in the Ted Wells' report based on the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation in the Miami. In a special guest column for The MMQB, which you should read, Avant wrote that he found parts of the Wells' report "shocking" and unacceptable.
The details in the Wells report seem like an atypical locker room, and I want to stress that not all NFL players are like that, and not all players in the Miami locker room are either. A majority of us behave appropriately, and enjoy representing our teams and our communities in the right way. But leaguewide, I do think there needs to be some kind of intervention.
Avant stressed the importance of leadership in the locker room, and even invoked names of former great Eagles players as examples.
The most important part of an NFL locker room is leadership. If there isn’t good leadership, one bad apple has potential to corrupt the bunch. In Philadelphia, our franchise has had some great leaders. The spirit of Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and Troy Vincent live on. Their names are mentioned a lot in organizational meetings, and Dawkins can come speak to the team any time he wants. We also have an owner, Jeffrey Lurie, who is hands-on and cordial; he has lunch with some players, and always discusses the mindset and the standards that those earlier guys raised—and I think that standard is extremely important. Why? Look at what happened this season with one of our receivers, Riley Cooper, who was caught on video using the ‘n’ word at a concert. That incident had the potential to divide us. Instead, because of strong team leadership, we worked through the issue together; we forgave Riley and we we able to grow, both as a team and as individuals—Riley included.
While he admitted he doesn't have a clear answer to the problems with locker room culture, Avant did make some suggestions that include: harsher fines, a code of conduct, and even more supervision.
Avant's off-the-field contributions ultimately may not be good enough to keep him on the roster moving forward. It's realistic the Eagles could cut ties with the long-tenured veteran this offseason. But for the Eagles it's reasons like Avant's leadership and insight that will make it a tough farewell.
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