Davone Bess's offseason has gone from funny to frightening. One day, he's tweeting photos of weed. The next, he's having what can only be described as a mental breakdown at the airport. It soon emerged that Bess had another breakdown in March, a month before Miami traded him to Cleveland. The all-important question becomes: Did the Browns know what they were getting?
A police report describes Friday's incident at Fort Lauderdale airport. Bess was seen "acting irrationally"—singing, dancing, his pants falling to his ankles. A deputy approached Bess, who crushed a cup of coffee on the officer, assumed a fighting stance, and removed his shirt before eventually calming down and being arrested.
It wasn't Bess's first run-in with police, as revealed in an incident report obtained by the Miami Herald. On March 11, 2013, when Bess was still with the Dolphins, his mother flew in from California after being told he hadn't slept in three days and wasn't acting like himself. Police arrived at Bess's home to a strong smell of marijuana, and several friends attempting to restrain a raving, incoherent Bess. Police then took their turn:
Six BSO deputies were needed that night to restrain Bess, who was screaming, "Hide the guns!" "Where is my weed?" and "I want to get in the end zone; throw me the football!" according to the incident report.
Bess was taken to the hospital under the Marchman Act, a Florida law that allows for family members to have an individual hospitalized for substance abuse and given a psychiatric assessment without his consent. (It's the drug-focused equivalent of California's more well-known 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold.)
Whether this was an isolated drug-induced episode or indicative of a larger problem, to a football team, it's merely a line in a personnel file to be used for risk assessment. Forget this guy's mental health—what are the chances it interferes with his ability to play football? On April 26, 2013, Bess was traded to the Browns. Armando Salguero of the Herald reports that the Dolphins were aware of Bess's first hospitalization, but declined to inform the Browns.
But while the Dolphins knew Bess was troubled, sources confirm they took a don't-ask-don't-tell approach on the matter when shopping and trading Bess. The Dolphins did not offer information on Bess's apparent personal instability, according to multiple sources.
The Dolphins were under no obligation to tell the Browns about Bess's meltdown, but it's just good sense to avoid pulling fast ones on trading partners. Like not disclosing a physical injury, eventually the full story is going to get out—and other teams will be wary of dealing with you in the future.
(Possibly recognizing this, one of Salguero's sources walked it back a bit after publication, telling him the Dolphins warned the Browns to "do their homework" on Bess.)
The incident report for Bess's May hospitalization was available for anyone who wanted it. Adam Beasley, the Herald reporter who first dug it up, told me he only had to submit Bess's name and date of birth to the Broward Country Sheriff's Office. Two hours later, he had the report.
This sounds like basic due diligence. (Wouldn't you assume every NFL team checks for local police records on players it plans to acquire?) It's not clear if the Browns did it, though. Beasley said the Browns "stonewalled" him when he tried to ask straight-up if they had known about Bess's March incident, and my own inquiry hasn't received a response. The Cleveland papers don't know either, making it clear that the Browns' front office is on lockdown on this front.
From a football point of view, this is yet another embarrassment for first-year GM Michael Lombardi. Rather than letting Bess play out the year remaining on his deal, the Browns signed him to an extension that included $5.75 million in guaranteed money. Since Bess's time in Cleveland is probably done, that's $5.75 million down the drain.
The backlash against Lombardi has begun in earnest, with ESPN Cleveland tallying all of his questionable and downright bad moves, and calls for him to be fired.
From a human point of view, it's depressing that a player with some serious issues was allowed to fall off the radar. This is especially true given that the Browns count their Inner Circle Program among their proudest achievements. Founded by former coach Sam Rutigliano in 1981, it provided help, counseling, and support to players with substance abuse and other mental issues, and was years ahead of the NFL's own substance-abuse program, which still requires a failed drug test.
Rutigliano believes the Inner Circle saved lives and careers, and was explicitly designed with situations like Bess's in mind.
Medical professionals might have interpreted Bess's tweets as cries for help. Rutigliano certainly sees a player who needs assistance and wonders why the Browns didn't involve Collins, now head of the psychology and psychiatry department at the Cleveland Clinic and a consultant on the NFL's drug program since 2000.
"I don't know if Miami knew anything about it and I don't really care. Maybe we could have helped him and we could have avoided what's going on," Rutigliano said
Cleveland is expected to release Bess once roster moves are allowed on Feb. 3. At 28, another team may take a chance on Bess, but if not, he'll find himself almost completely beyond the reach of the NFL's safety net. It would be a shame if he slipped through because one team failed to do its homework and another wanted an edge in a trade.