Numerous incidents involving Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil on Thursday night cost the first-round draft pick not only millions of dollars but also severe damage to his reputation, leaving the NFL to answer some unwanted questions about one of its newest players. A video of Tunsil smoking what appeared to be marijuana was posted on his personal Twitter account just 13 minutes before the start of the draft, and the rookie later admitted to receiving impermissible benefits in college.
It wasn’t long ago that Tunsil was the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, but his stock plummeted when his social media accounts were hacked and the video started circulating. The hack potentially cost Tunsil more than $8 million over the length of his rookie contract and at least $7.3 million in guaranteed money.
Tunsil deleted his Twitter account shortly after the video was posted, but the damage was done. He fell out of the top 10 and two offensive linemen were drafted ahead of him. The 21-year-old’s nightmare finally ended at No. 13, when he was selected by the Miami Dolphins.
Before the Tennessee Titans traded the No. 1 overall pick two weeks ago, Tunsil was projected by many experts to be taken first overall. After the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles acquired the top two picks to draft quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, Tunsil was expected to be drafted anywhere from No. 3 to No. 6. The Baltimore Ravens drafted an offensive lineman with the No. 6 pick, but went with Ronnie Stanley from Notre Dame.
At No. 6 overall, Tunsil was likely to sign a four-year contract worth close to $21 million. If he went eighth overall, where the Titans took offensive tackle Jack Conklin, his projected contract would have been worth around $16 million. Based on the salary cap and what No. 13 picks have signed for in recent years, Tunsil will likely get a deal worth around $12.5 million.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, seeming not to grasp -- or at least focus on-- the gravity of the situation, provided a somewhat vague and incoherent response on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” radio show Friday morning when asked about the Tunsil predicament.
“I think it’s all a part of what makes the draft so exciting,” Goodell said. “Clubs make decisions … sometimes they take risks. Sometimes they do the right thing, and sometimes they don’t. We’ll see. Hopefully, he’s going to turn out to be a great young player.”
ESPN analysts, meanwhile, were quick to point out that Tunsil’s draft stock plummet had little to do with “excitement,” as Goodell was missing the point of how Tunsil’s NFL career was already off to a rocky start. Tim Hasselbeck, who has been with ESPN since 2007, described what happened to Tunsil as "really sad" and that Tunsil was supposed to be in the position of "celebrating the best day of his life."
The video was just the start of the controversy that surrounded Tunsil. Screenshots of alleged texts between Tunsil and Ole Miss assistant athletic director John Miller, with the player asking for money to pay his rent and his mother’s bills, were also posted on his Instagram account. Tunsil admitted at a press conference Thursday that the texts were legitimate.
"I'd have to say yeah," Tunsil said, when asked if he took money from a coach.
"Those were true. I made a mistake of that happening."
— Sleeper Athletes (@SleeperAthletes) April 29, 2016
It had already been known that Tunsil had received some improper benefits at Ole Miss. He was suspended for seven games last year when the NCAA determined he received an interest-free promissory note on a $3,000 down payment to buy a used car, two nights of lodging at a local home, an airline ticket purchased by a friend of a teammate, and one-day use of a rental vehicle. Tunsil was also found to have used three loaner cars over six months without payment.
There’s been speculation that it was Tunsil’s stepfather who was responsible for the social-media hack. Tunsil’s stepfather is currently suing the Dolphins’ lineman, but he denied having anything to do with what happened on draft night.
Dr. Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis, doesn’t believe Tunsil’s link to marijuana is a black eye on the NFL, though it does provide issues for Tunsil.
“For a lot of these young athletes, I think people are being naïve to assume that they aren’t perhaps doing things like [smoking marijuana],” Rishe said in a phone interview. He added that the Tunsil incident highlights the great importance for new athletes to cut ties with certain people who can potentially damage their career.
Tunsil is not the first player to see his draft stock drop as a result of perceived character flaws, and almost certainly won’t be the last. Following multiple high-profile cases of player misconduct, teams are increasingly wary of making multimillion-dollar investments into young athletes on draft day who might be prone to behavioral issues.
Rishe feels that professional teams are rightfully cautious about adding players with questionable off-the-field behavior, citing how teams that avoid such distractions tend to have more success.
“Not every player that plays on a successful team is a boy scout, but certainly if you look across the landscape, teams that tend to have a good core group of guys both on and off the field tend to be the most successful and have the best chemistry,” Rishe said.