Eagles Lead the League in Animal Cruelty

And other revelations from Deadspin's look at crime in the NFL.

Remember when Jeffrey Lurie called the Eagles the “gold standard” in the NFL and everyone laughed? Or when Andy Reid talked about building his team around character guys before Terrell Owens arrived? As it turns out, at least by one measurement, Lurie and Big Red were right.

In the wake of the Aaron Hernandez saga, Deadspin recently took a closer look at crime in the NFL. Comparing the arrest records of pro football players to those of adult males across the entire country, the numbers didn’t look as damning as headlines on SportsCenter might lead you to believe: With the exception of weapons charges, the athletes were less likely to be arrested in all other categories (DUI, drugs and assault/battery).

Back to the Birds — Deadspin’s report cited a great infographic compiled by the aptly-named Sports Geeks. It tracks arrests for each NFL team dating back to 2000, which is nearly the entire Reid era. Over that span, the Eagles are tied for the fourth-lowest total number of arrests at just 12. That makes them the most law-abiding squad in the NFC East, in front of Dallas, New York (both with 14) and Washington (18). Lurie’s “gold standard” teams have rap sheets to go with their rings, as New England (16) and Pittsburgh (19) both outpace the Eagles in bad behavior.

As with most data, the numbers only tell part of the story. The dogfighting charges against Michael Vick — who was recently drawn into the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s verdict — happened while he was with the Atlanta Falcons, so the Eagles don’t take a hit for signing him. Some of the arrests are also absurdly minor. Vick was cited for fishing in a private lake in 2007; the charges were dropped, but that misdemeanor arrest is still a strike against the Falcons. Ex-Eagle linebacker Dhani Jones was arrested in 2006 for refusing to obey a police order to stop dancing outside a club in Miami (if he was playing that stinkin’ air banjo, those charges were warranted). My favorite violation — battery charges against a Jags tackle “after a fracas at a plant nursery.”

Of the 12 Eagles infractions, just one offender is still on the roster — Jason Peters, the only player to make the bad-boys list twice (resisting arrest after being pulled over for loud music in 2011 and drag racing this past May). The lone smudge on the team’s otherwise solid record — the Eagles lead the league in animal cruelty, thanks to running back Thomas Hamner beating his pit bull and safety Damon Moore abandoning a puppy at a soccer field.

One thing the numbers also show is that good behavior does not necessarily lead to championships. All nine teams who’ve won the Super Bowl since 2000 tallied more arrests than the Eagles, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers leading the way with 28. But most Super Bowl-winning franchises rate somewhere in the middle or lower-end of the scale. There are also a lot of charges that were dropped or dismissed out of the 666 total league-wide and players who were cut quickly, like Hernandez.

What to make of all this? The image of the NFL as a crime-infested league of thugs is a bit overblown and legal troubles may not have as much impact on winning as one might think. Plenty of players on this list are practice-squad types and journeymen. Meanwhile, Terrell Owens, one of the most talented and divisive stars in all of football, has a clean record. Yet only one of the 10 teams with the worst records has won the Lombardi Trophy. If there’s another high-risk, high-reward player like Hernandez in next year’s draft when the Eagles make their pick, I’d let one of the other gold standard teams roll those dice.