The Cincinnati Bengals gambled Friday night by trading down seven spots in the second round. Whether they won or lost depends on your view on the value of forgiveness, redemption and rehabilitation.
Actually, whether they won or lost may not be known for many years, until Joe Mixon exits the NFL as a redeemed or repeat offender.
The Bengals drafted the controversial running back from Oklahoma with the 48th overall pick knowing full well they are about to absorb a public relations firestorm by paying millions of dollars to someone who three years ago as an 18-year-old freshman punched a 19-year-woman, fracturing four bones in her face.
“Obviously this is a pick that opens everybody’s eyes,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve done such a lot of work regarding Joe Mixon throughout the entire process this year. Based on all the time, all the research, we felt that we can continue to move forward.
“We’ve done all of our due diligence we can do, time spent interviewing people, everybody around him, everybody around his background, people that have coached at Oklahoma for insight regarding him and how he has carried himself since that day.”
The punch (Warning: Video above is graphic) occurred at 2:30 a.m. on July 25, 2014, a few hours after Mixon had celebrated his 18th birthday. Mixon was charged with a misdemeanor and received a one-year deferred prison sentence. He also had to do 100 hours of community service and mandatory cognitive behavioral counseling and was suspended for his freshman season.
On April 21, the woman Mixon punched, Amelia Molitor, agreed to drop her civil suit and the two released a joint statement.
“I am happy we were able to bring the lawsuit to an end,” Molitor said in the statement. “Joe and I were able to meet privately, without any attorneys, and talk about our experience since that night. I am encouraged that we will both be able to move forward from here with our lives.
“We both could have handled things differently,” the statement continues. “I believe if we had a chance to go back to that moment in time, the situation would not have ended the way it did.”
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Lewis said that settlement played a role in the decision to draft Mixon.
“Joe’s situation kind of came to a settlement in all ways this week, which also led us to feel better about the opportunity here and to move forward,” Lewis said.
Asked how much of the public reaction the team considered before drafting Mixon, Lewis said “every bit of it.”
“I think some of our fans are probably going to pause for a second,” he continued. “But this thing’s got to move forward. He’s got to move on. He’s lived with this since the day it occurred and he’s done a good job of carrying himself through that.”
After being reinstated in 2015, Mixon rushed for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also caught 65 passes for 894 yards and nine scores in his two seasons with Oklahoma.
He was viewed by many as the top running back in the draft and an overall top-10 talent, but many teams were reluctant to draft Mixon given his past.
Mixon was emotional when he talked to reporters via a conference call a half hour after the Bengals drafted him.
“I’m still sitting here crying,” he said. “I can’t believe it. I’m very thankful and very honored to be a Cincinnati Bengal.”
Mixon said he’s a different person than he was three years ago when the punch changed his life.
“It changed me a lot as a person,” he said. “The way you think, the way you carry yourself and go about things. The way Oklahoma helped me, I can’t thank them enough either. I’m going to continue to keep doing the right thing around the community, on and off the field, and I’m going to prove to them the reason they kept me. I’m going to do whatever I can to make them proud and make them happy and I’m looking forward to doing that with the Cincinnati Bengals as well.”
Cincinnati traded the 41st overall pick to Minnesota for the Vikings’ second- and fourth-round picks
The deal moved the Bengals back seven picks in the second round and gave them the 128th overall pick in the fourth round. The Bengals also own the 116th and 138th overall picks in the fourth.
The last time the Bengals traded down was in 2012 when they struck a deal with New England to move down six spots from 21 to 27 while also getting the Patriots’ third-round pick (93rd overall).
New England took Chandler Jones at 21, and the Bengals took Kevin Zeitler at 27. Cincinnati parlayed the 93rd pick into Brandon Thompson.