There is no doubt Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib is an extraordinary talent. There is no doubt the Buccaneers are heading down a dangerous road with Talib.
The way the Buccaneers are coddling and protecting Talib reminds me a lot of the way the Carolina Panthers have handled mercurial receiver Steve Smith for his entire career, and that's more than a little scary.
Sure, the Panthers have gotten plenty of benefits from the way they've handled Smith for the last decade or so. Smith has been one of the league's best receivers for much of that time and he also has behaved well -- most of the time -- and makes a genuine effort to compensate for his shortcomings.
But Smith also has been far from a model citizen on multiple occasions. He has beaten up teammates, had altercations with opponents that have resulted in costly penalties and his sometimes-boorish behavior often has left team staff around Bank of America Stadium rolling their eyes.
If Smith were just another player, he would have been gone long ago. But he's an exceptional talent, so rules get bent and he has received second, third and fourth chances. It's now becoming apparent the Bucs are treating Talib the same way.
He had a postgame altercation with an official Sunday in Baltimore. Eyewitnesses say Talib got into a shouting match with an official and had to be restrained.
Yet, coach Raheem Morris on Monday defended Talib, saying the cornerback did nothing wrong. Maybe the pass interference call that started this whole thing was horribly wrong. Morris also was visibly upset at the time of the call.
But you have to let things go. People around the NFL always talk about how cornerbacks have to have short memories. But people who employ cornerbacks can't have short memories.
They have to remember that Talib already has had several incidents where his anger has gotten him in trouble. He served a one-game suspension at the start of this season for an incident with a cab driver. He also has had past altercations with teammates.
That means every move Talib makes is being watched closely by the league office. With one suspension already under his belt, even slight flareups could lead to another. Talib should be watched even more closely by the people within One Buccaneer Place. He should be held to a higher standard than any other player on the roster. If the Bucs let Talib's temper go or enable it, they're asking for more trouble down the road.
The Bucs have tried to talk this year about how character is important. When reserve tight end Jerramy Stevens, who had been in previous trouble, was arrested in October, the Bucs let him go. That made a statement and that was good.
But if they keep letting Talib run wild, they run the risk of getting into the same situation Carolina has with Smith. When the receiver has one of his flareups, teammates roll their eyes and wonder why Smith gets special treatment from a franchise that goes out of its way to talk about the importance of character.
That has led to a running joke when Carolina scouts show up at pro days and college workouts. Frequently, they'll tell scouts from other teams that they can't even scout a player because he has had character issues. That always leads to a laugh and a sarcastic reply ("What about Steve Smith?'') from scouts from other teams. The Carolina scouts are always left speechless in those situations because they know a double standard has been exposed.
Tampa Bay can't allow a double standard for Talib. The Bucs have to take a tougher approach with this talented young player and get his temper under control. If they don't, it's eventually going to come back and bite the franchise.