Nothing has changed this year, and nothing would have changed last year.
That's what Eagles general manager Tom Heckert said when he was asked about the team's draft philosophy now that new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell intends to severely punish players who get into trouble on and off the field.
Goodell, who replaced Paul Tagliabue before last season, made it clear earlier this month with his one-year suspension of Tennessee defensive back Adam "Pacman" Jones and the half-season suspension of Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry that player misconduct would not be tolerated.
The commissioner's new conduct policy could force some teams to think long and hard about drafting players who have exhibited questionable behavior during their college careers.
"I don't think it affects us," Heckert said. "We've always been concerned about that stuff, so I don't think it really affects us at all. We'll still do the same things."
That's an interesting statement because the Eagles, with their first two picks in last year's draft, took a couple of guys who got into some trouble when they were in college. First-round pick Brodrick Bunkley was arrested in 2003 for petty theft when he stole a video game at a Florida Wal-Mart. The defensive tackle out of Florida State was forced to pay a fine and perform 16 hours of community service.
Second-round pick Winston Justice was arrested in February 2004 for brandishing a replica gun at a fellow student at the University of Southern California. Justice pleaded no contest to the charge. USC suspended him from the team for the 2004 season, and it cost the offensive tackle a chance to be part of the Trojans' national championship team that year. He also was arrested in 2003 on a charge of soliciting an undercover police officer as part of a prostitution sting operation in Long Beach, Calif.
Heckert said the Eagles asked Bunkley and Justice about their criminal records before the draft and were convinced the two men had matured to the point that they would not have conduct issues as professionals.
"I don't want to sound like we weren't concerned about it, because we were," Heckert said. "But we talked to them and we heard what we wanted to hear. We would have taken those guys this year, too."
The Eagles don't always like what they hear when they interview players before the draft, and they aren't always convinced that a player has changed his ways. When Andy Reid finished an interview with former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett at the scouting combine in 2004, he was sure that the kid still had problems.
"We've been really picky here," Heckert said. "We drop guys in a heartbeat. Let's say we take a guy off the board, and he goes somewhere, and he is a Pro Bowl player. Hey, that's fine. But if you take a guy and he screws up, then it's a big deal. We're pretty hard on these guys, and we take a lot of guys off the board."
Bunkley, of course, didn't have a great rookie year, and Justice never even dressed for a game because he was stuck behind veteran tackles William Thomas and Jon Runyan. When you talk to both players, however, they sound sincere in their remorse.
"It was just a stupid, stupid mistake," Bunkley said. "It was embarrassing for me, and it was embarrassing for my family. I did my community service with some kids after it happened, but I know I was there for the wrong reason.
"I'm a guy who once he gets hit over the head, I learn what to stay away from. You're in the NFL, and you have a chance to make a whole [lot] of money, so you better carry yourself the right way because you are a role model to kids."
Talk to Justice and there's no hint that he is anything other than a mild-mannered giant intent on not making the same mistakes that blemished his college career and may have cost him a chance at being a first-round pick. The Eagles were thrilled to get Justice in the second round and have insisted they were going to take him in the first round if Bunkley had not been there.
"I got a lot of questions about it, and I thought the way I changed as a person, the coaches would be able to see that," Justice said. "The most important thing is that I know I changed from the whole incident and my life has really turned around from it. Back then, I was so lost as a person and my character was so lost, I didn't know what I was doing or feeling back then. I just try to look forward, because I'm a better person now."
The Eagles could have another difficult draft-day decision Saturday if they decide to draft University of Miami safety Brandon Meriweather, who was a central figure in an ugly brawl the Hurricanes had with Florida International last season. Last July, Meriweather pulled out a handgun and shot at an assailant who had shot one of his Miami teammates in the buttocks. Charges were not filed against Meriweather for that incident.
"That's something we're really investigating," Heckert said. "I think he's a good kid. He's never been arrested or anything like that, but that fight was so public. It looked bad, and it was bad, and we've talked to him at length about it."