ST. PETERSBURG — The story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o being the victim or perpetrator of a hoax involving a fictitious girlfriend has spawned more questions than answers.
Some might be resolved over the next few days, but one won't be until April: What will the scandal do to his draft status?
Before the maelstrom, Te'o, the runnerup for the Heisman Trophy, was projected as an early first-round pick; as high as No. 8 in some mock drafts. The value of contracts in the first round ranges from more than $20 million for the top five picks to $6 million for the bottom five.
The most important factors in evaluating players are ability and productivity on film. Te'o will get high marks for both with 113 tackles and seven interceptions in his senior season. But character is important, and NFL teams are used to dealing with drug use, burglary, violent crimes, even domestic abuse. But they have never navigated a situation quite like this.
"There are so many moving parts to this thing," said Mike Mayock, an analyst for the NFL Network who will call the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on Saturday. "I have no idea what the real story is. And I think from an NFL perspective, most teams are going to sit back and wait until the dust clears and do their homework on the kid."
Te'o, who is training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, has no plans to make a public statement, his agent, Tom Condon, said Thursday. But he will have plenty of opportunities to tell his version of the story. Teams will interview Te'o at the scouting combine, Notre Dame's pro day and private workouts.
"I try to tell people all the time: This is a process, and we're at the very beginning right now," Mayock said. "Everything plays out over time. All 32 teams will figure it out for themselves."
Notre Dame officials said they were told about the hoax Dec. 26, and they began their investigation the next day. Te'o couldn't sign with an agent until after the BCS national title game Jan. 7, meaning Condon did not have time to get in front of the story before the website Deadspin broke it Wednesday.
"Do I think it's a red flag? I do not. It's simply a situation that needs to be further investigated," Bill Polian, the former Bills and Panthers general manager and former Colts president, said during an appearance on ESPN. "It's unfortunate, but it's not uncommon. It's a bizarre story, but there are players in every draft who have situations such as this that need to be examined. And as a matter of course, they generally are."
Former Falcons and Oilers coach Jerry Glanville, who is coaching the Shrine's East team, said the character threshold is set by the front office.
"The importance of character goes by who your general manager is," he said. "And I've been with different people at different places. I had a job where we didn't care about character. I learned in my career you still win with character. Coaches put a higher emphasis on character than people running the draft."
Regardless of a possible involvement in the hoax, teams also must decide if Te'o can cope with ridicule he will face from teammates and opponents.
"Even if he's not complicit, the embarrassment scale. … Can a linebacker, a search-and-destroy kid who has to play in the NFL and deal with 300-plus pound guys and big running backs and all that other stuff?" Fox Sports college football analyst Charles Davis said during a radio appearance Thursday.
"Can that person survive embarrassment and still be that guy?"