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Act of desperation?

Packers gamble on troubled Robinson

By TOM SILVERSTEIN
tsilverstein@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Sept. 11, 2006

Green Bay - It might be a coincidence that less than 24 hours after the Green Bay Packers were shut out for the first time in 233 games, they agreed to terms Monday with troubled wide receiver Koren Robinson.

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But it certainly smacked of desperation.

In the wake of that 26-0 loss to Chicago on Sunday, general manager Ted Thompson has put his credibility on the line for a player whose alcohol-related problems have gotten him released from two teams; have him scheduled to make two court appearances in the next month or so; and have left him in danger of being suspended for a year by the National Football League.

Thompson, who was Seattle's vice president of football operations when Robinson was taken by the Seahawks with the ninth pick in the 2001 draft, stood in front of reporters and vouched for Robinson's character.

"This is a good kid," Thompson told reporters. "I'm not making excuses; he's made some mistakes. But this is a good kid. He is a good character guy, for all intents and purposes. He's made some mistakes."

Robinson, 26, has twice been arrested for drunken driving and served one day in jail on a five-year suspended sentence on the first one, which occurred on May 6, 2005, in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland. In July of that year, police accused Robinson of showing up drunk for his one-day sentence, but the allegation was dropped after Robinson reached an agreement with the court.

On Aug. 15 of this year, Robinson engaged police in a 15-mile chase back to the Minnesota Vikings' training camp site in Mankato, Minn. Police say he was driving 104 mph in a 55-mph zone and registered a blood-alcohol content of 0.11 after taking a field sobriety test.

The first question Thompson received from a reporter was what if Robinson had killed someone in the state while driving drunk or speeding away from police.

"I can't answer anything like that," Thompson said after pausing awhile, clearly taken aback by the question.

Thompson was later asked if this was an act of desperation after his team suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Bears on Sunday in the season opener.

"No, no," Thompson said. "We've been thinking about this for some time. The timing of it was probably more . . . it wasn't appropriate before. It became appropriate now."

Thompson said Robinson would be able to help the Packers both as a receiver and a returner and would probably be available Sunday for the New Orleans game.

Reaction to Robinson's signing among some NFL officials and observers was negative. Why would Thompson put his neck on the line for a player who has an apparent substance-abuse problem and is just a month removed from his last transgression? Some thought it was a mistake for Thompson to take this risk, regardless of his close relationship with Robinson.

Fox commentator and former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson, who himself took chances on players with checkered pasts, said on the network's Web site, "This Green Bay team looks terrible. Why sign a problem when you're a bad as the Packers? Sign a risk when you have a chance to get to the next level. You mean they want to sign Koren Robinson so they can win six games instead of four?"

Thompson made his decision to sign Robinson after a lengthy meeting Sept. 3 at Packers headquarters. The two talked openly and Thompson came away convinced that Robinson was sincere about his desire to stay clean.

Thompson took a week to think about whether signing Robinson was the right thing to do. Both he and another Packers front office official, personnel analyst John Schneider, have personal relationships with Robinson and thought he would succeed in a small-town environment.

"We're going to work at it," Thompson said. "This is a team commitment and we'll have support and things like that. Koren knows where he is. He's a grown man."

Before he made the decision to sign Robinson to what sources said was a two-year deal with a first-year minimum-wage base salary, Thompson consulted with team Chairman and CEO Bob Harlan. The memory of the Packers' sullied reputation because of off-the-field misbehavior of players during the mid-1980s quickly came to mind for Harlan, but he decided to put his trust in Thompson's judgment.

"He came in last week and went through the whole situation and his relationship with him in Seattle," Harlan said. "Ted talked to several players on the team and asked their opinion on him. They were all in favor of it. Ted was confident he would do well.

"I asked him, 'Are we taking a chance or does he look at this as a final opportunity?' You hope he looks at it as a final opportunity because he doesn't have many chances left."

Robinson was brought in front of reporters after Thompson and answered a few questions. After saying he would not talk about the problems he encountered in Minnesota and Seattle, he answered a few questions about his past.

Asked the same question Thompson received earlier about assurances he wouldn't drive drunk again, Robinson said, "I rather not talk about that, but I know I can assure you I'm going to give the Packers 110% of the best Koren Robinson there is."

Robinson was asked if he would again seek treatment for alcohol abuse.

"I do that already as it is," he said. "But as far as anything alcoholic or anything that concerns that, I'd rather not talk about that."

Robinson, who is married and has one child, has a long history of alcohol-related problems, but has remained in the NFL because he is so talented. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Robinson has caught 235 passes for 2,514 yards (15.0 average) and 13 touchdowns in five seasons in the NFL. His best year was 2002, when he caught 78 passes for 1,240 yards and five touchdowns.

Last year with the Vikings, he earned a Pro Bowl berth as a kick returner, averaging an NFC-high 26 yards per return in 14 games, scoring once on a touchdown. In addition, he started five games at wide receiver, averaging 15.8 yards per catch on 22 receptions.

He was scheduled to be a starter for the Vikings this year, but his arrest coupled with a long chain of unlawful activity by members of the organization prompted Minnesota to release him. Green Bay was the only team that brought him in for a visit, although Robinson's agent, Alvin Keels, said there were other interested teams.

"I think it's a great fit for Koren and I think he's a great fit for the Packers," Keels said. "I think they have an offense he's comfortable playing in. He's familiar with a couple front office people and Green Bay is a warm town. I think they'll give him an opportunity."

Before his time in Minnesota, Robinson wore out his welcome with the Seahawks. Coach Mike Holmgren benched him for a game in 2003 for missing a meeting and the next year benched him again for a game for violating team rules.

A short time later, the NFL suspended him for four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy for a second time. Holmgren benched Robinson once more that season, for Seattle's season finale in January, and told him he could take part in the playoffs only if he sought help for alcohol abuse.

According to news reports, Robinson did check himself into a rehabilitation center, but in May 2005 he was arrested for drunken driving and the Seahawks released him in June.

When Holmgren heard of Robinson's most recent arrest Aug. 15, he told reporters, "When he was with us, I rooted for him. I tried to help. I felt like I kind of failed the kid somehow. He has got to get a grip on this before something bad happens."

After the Seahawks released him, Robinson went into rehab again, and when he came out he signed with the Vikings. He had a terrific season and was rewarded with a three-year, $12 million contract, little of which he'll receive after being arrested a month ago and then released by the Vikings.

Robinson still faces two court dates, one in late September for a possible parole violation related to his first arrest and an Oct. 17 date in Minnesota for his latest arrest.







From the Sept. 12, 2006 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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