Mike Vandermause column: Credit Packers for giving Lyerla a chance

May 22, 2014
Packers take a chance on Lyerla
Packers take a chance on Lyerla: Wes and Mike discuss the Packers' decision to take a chance on talented but troubled tight end Colt Lyerla. (Wednesday, May 21, 2014)
Green Bay Packers tight end Colt Lyerla (49) during rookie orientation camp inside the Don Hutson Center in Ashwaubenon. / File/Press-Gazette Media


Maybe the holier-than-thou pundits will one day get to smugly say, “I told you so.”

Maybe Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has taken undue risk by signing tight end Colt Lyerla.

Maybe the organization will be wiping egg off its face if the unpredictable Lyerla, who has a checkered past, wanders off the straight-and-narrow path yet again.

The easy thing to do would be to label Lyerla a perpetual loser who doesn’t deserve another chance.

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But the easy way is not always the right way. Some risks are worth taking, especially when a young person’s future is on the line.

The finger-pointers will demand to know how many chances someone deserves. In the case of Lyerla, perhaps one more is all he needs to turn his life around.

No one is condoning or excusing Lyerla for his behavior, which likely will haunt him for a long time.

He already has paid a steep price for his lengthy list of transgressions, which include quitting the University of Oregon football team last year, getting busted for cocaine possession, sending deplorable Twitter messages about the victims of the Sandy Hook killings, and being suspended for violating team rules at Oregon.

It’s understandable that some NFL teams wouldn’t touch Lyerla because of his shaky history. Even though some scouts rated him a first- or second-round talent, Lyerla’s stock plummeted so far that he couldn’t find anyone willing to sign him as an undrafted free agent.

He came to Green Bay on a tryout basis and was offered a contract only after passing a rookie orientation test last weekend.

The Packers have been criticized in some circles for supposedly reaching into the gutter to address a desperate need at tight end. To which I ask: Whatever happened to the concept of redemption and forgiveness?

We don’t have to like what Lyerla did in his past, but does he deserve to be judged mercilessly and told that he’s worthless and beyond reclamation?

Some scouts hysterically have compared Lyerla to former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who sits in jail accused of murder.

To my knowledge, Lyerla hasn’t physically harmed anyone. He is the product of a difficult upbringing and likely has deep emotional scars, but by all accounts is attempting to deal with those demons.

Lyerla knows he’s probably used up all his life lines when it comes to football. There is very little, if any, room for error.

But give the Packers credit for extending Lyerla a helping hand, rather than writing him off as a lost cause.

“He’s done things in his college career and (we’re) fully aware of everything that every prospect’s done on and off the field, and with that we feel he’s earned the opportunity … to earn a spot to go to training camp,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said last weekend before Lyerla was offered a contract.

The same judgmental, furrowed brows greeted the Packers in 2006 when they signed receiver Koren Robinson, who had a history of drunken-driving arrests. Thompson took a chance on Robinson, who proved to be a model citizen for two years in Green Bay.

Thompson also went out on a limb last year for defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, who was suspended by the NFL for three years for drug-related issues, but re-signed with the Packers and was on his best behavior.

There are no guarantees Lyerla’s story will have a happy ending, but Thompson’s track record is solid when it comes to assessing risky players.

Thompson places a high value on a player’s character and influence in the locker room. There can be no doubt he carefully considered those factors when he signed Lyerla.

“I have always believed that there are certain things that people can atone for, acknowledge their mistakes and get on with their lives,” Thompson said. “And I am a proponent of those kind of people that try to do that. And that’s where we’re at with Colt.”

No matter how the Lyerla experiment in Green Bay turns out, Thompson should be applauded for stepping outside his comfort zone and offering a troubled young man another chance.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause

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