It has been a month since Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington was suspended for a year by the NFL for repeatedly violating its substance abuse policy.
It has been a month since Washington showed that his personal priorities trumped those of his team’s.
Yet as Arizona has moved on without him, trying desperately to find his replacement at inside linebacker, the feelings toward him have, for the most part, remained the same. The Monday after his suspension was announced on a Friday, an air of disappointment floated over organized team activities.
But there was still some compassion for the man who put his own interests over those of the team.
“We've got to be there for him and be supportive and not put him out there on an island by himself,” veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “We got to be there, calling [him], ‘What’s going on? Let’s talk.’ Just try to build off him and make sure he gets through this better than when he started.”
There’s more to Washington’s suspension than just a player who was removed from the field for 16 games. He’s a man who’s in need of direction, of guidance, of help.
And while a locker room is a family and the Cardinals all look at each other as brothers, it’s tough to fathom them being as sympathetic with Washington privately as they are publicly. He went back on a promise not to let his fans -- and teammates -- down anymore. I can’t imagine anyone not being let down by a full-year ban. He single-handedly put a playoff berth in jeopardy.
No matter how close a team is, there’s no way a locker room would -- or should -- accept when one of its own got busted for at least a third time for using marijuana. The worst part is that Washington had to know what the ramifications were if he got caught again.
Whether he’ll be allowed back in the Cardinals’ locker room after his suspension is completed is one thing -- he might be cut before then.
If he’ll be welcomed back is an entirely different question. And his teammates have begun to answer it.
“Absolutely,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “With open arms. I think this locker room understands guys make mistakes and some mistakes are more detrimental than others and hurt you more than others, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that everybody in this locker room. … I can’t wait to see him. I know he’s been through a lot and there’s been a lot of crazy things, but this locker room will give him a hug, you know, welcome him back and be glad to see him back.”
When Arizona coach Bruce Arians was asked if he could an envision a scenario that includes Washington returning to the Cardinals, he said he doesn’t even think about it.
It’d be one thing if trouble and Washington hadn’t become synonymous in the past year. Then the compassion and empathy would be understood. But that was his third incident either with the league or with the law in a span of 13 months.
Some of his teammates' and coaches' understanding may stem from the fact Washington has had a tough year and he needs to redirect his life.
“We obviously hope that Daryl gets his life straightened out, but he also is very unaccountable to his teammates, the organization, the fans and everyone else,” Arians said.