While Jalen Carter is not directly responsible for the January street-racing incident that led to the deaths of two young people in Georgia, his involvement in it has opened the door to all kinds of character questions in the NFL world about the highly talented defensive tackle.
Authorities believe Carter was involved in the racing that ultimately took the lives of University of Georgia recruiting staff member Chandler LeCroy, 24, and UGA teammate Devin Willock on Jan. 15.
Carter is facing a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine in Georgia for the misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing. He gave misleading statements, first saying he was not at the scene when the accident occurred and later acknowledging he was.
This immediately raised questions among NFL decision-makers, coaches and scouts as to whether he was drinking that night — and if so, to what extent. At the same time, it raised questions about his poor decision-making if he was endangering himself and others by racing at high speeds with LeCroy, who was reportedly intoxicated and driving 104 mph just before the fatal crash.
Carter has cast himself in a negative light, one that due to its serious nature and timing will also certainly negatively affect his draft stock.
At IFA, the player representation agency where I am a senior consultant, we always emphasize to our rookie clients to not do anything stupid or illegal in advance of the draft and before signing their first professional contracts. We tell them to stay out of bars (especially late at night), not to drink and drive, and not to get in fights or any type of legal entanglements. And we continue to make the point throughout their NFL careers and emphasize it again when they are pending free agents.
Financially, there’s way too much at stake.
Learning From Past
Carter should have learned from previous negative experiences of other draft hopefuls like Laremy Tunsil and Dak Prescott, who each saw the impact of off-field troubles on their draft stock.
Shortly before the 2016 NFL Draft, the infamous video of Tunsil wearing a gas mask and smoking a substance from a bong surfaced on his verified Twitter account. Projected as a top-3 pick, Tunsil fell to the Miami Dolphins at No. 13, costing him more than $13 million in his rookie contract.
After a stellar college career at Mississippi State, Prescott was projected as a potential second-round pick, but 46 days before that same draft as Tunsil, he was pulled over and charged with speeding and DUI. He admitted drinking at least one beer but was remorseful and cleared of the charges a few months after the draft. However, the damage was done pre-draft and he dropped to the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round, costing him about $2 million in his rookie deal compared to a second-round pick.
The history of the NFL draft is littered with cautionary tales of players dropping because of questionable decision-making that raises red flags with NFL teams.
While Prescott and Tunsil can’t get back the lost money from their rookie contracts, to their credit, they have carved out highly successful careers and are currently playing under lucrative contracts. And Prescott was just named the 2022 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year for his community service and off-field excellence.
Time will tell how much Carter’s lack of judgment will cost him, and whether he can ever recover like others before him.
Questions Left to Answer
Carter, who earlier in the week left the NFL Combine to turn himself in after two warrants were issued for his arrest, returned to Indianapolis to meet with teams and take his physical. The first chance he’ll have to work out in front of scouts and preserve his status as a top prospect will be at Georgia’s Pro Day on March 15. The interview sessions at his pro day and during pre-draft visits to team facilities will be stressful for Carter, who will be grilled incessantly about his character and the racing incident.
His agents now have him engaging in damage control. “There is no question in my mind that when all the facts are known that I will be fully exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing,” Carter said in a statement earlier this week.
Well, there’s definitely a question among NFL people about Carter’s role in the tragic incident. He might wind up being cleared or get a slap on the wrist, but he made a big mistake by putting himself in this position to be questioned by authorities and teams about his activities that night and overall decision-making. He’s got a lot of work to do as he tries to convince NFL teams that they can count on him being great both on the field and in the community.
Carter is generally considered the most talented player in the upcoming draft, but I can’t recall a player with character questions going No. 1 overall. A potential drop from No. 1 to No. 4 would cost him an estimated $4 million on his rookie contract, and if teams really get skittish on him as they did with Tunsil and Prescott, and he drops out of the top 10, we’re talking an estimated $18 million difference from No. 1 to No. 11.
Even before this incident, I thought the Chicago Bears would trade the top pick to a quarterback-needy team. But if the Bears didn’t find offers to their liking or if they thought Carter was too good to pass up, their thinking may well have changed as a result of Carter’s actions on that January night. He gave Chicago GM Ryan Poles another reason to trade the pick or select the draft’s other top defensive player — edge rusher Will Anderson — with the first pick or even at No. 4 after a potential trade with the Indianapolis Colts.
Tragically, all of this was avoidable.
Jeff Diamond is a former Minnesota Vikings general manager and Titans team president. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.