There is a point when even talent is not worth the trouble. There is a line where a team has been embarrassed enough. There is a time when an employer's patience is no longer a virtue.
In the case of Aqib Talib, it is time to ask:
Aren't the Bucs there yet?
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Talib is in the headlines again. Of course he is. This time, he is a "person of interest" in a shooting incident near his hometown of Dallas, which should just about complete the Aqib Talib Self-Destruction Tour.
For a long time now, Talib has been a talented troublemaker, a walking bad decision followed by controversy and headed toward scandal. He does not hear the scolding, he is impervious to lapel-shaking, and he is beyond the benefit of doubt. The drugs in college. The fights with teammates. The assault. The suspension. And now this.
Here's a question: Can Talib's career withstand another scandal?
Here's another: Should it?
By now, don't even the Bucs have to be fed up with Talib? After all, it is their reputation, as much as his, that keeps getting diminished. If Talib is out of control, what does that say about those who pay him and who, on occasion, have protected him?
Remember, this is a franchise where one of the goals is to be liked again by the community it represents. In other words, the Bucs aspire to be one of those organizations that stand for something more than touchdowns and that represent more than entertainment.
Ticket-buyers, too, want to believe in the athletes they cheer. They want to believe that beneath the money and the adulation, they're good guys who are willing to like them back. Players like Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott. Players like John Lynch and Derrick Brooks.
Note to the Bucs: Talib isn't helping.
He doesn't get it. By now, it is obvious he isn't going to get it. And be warned: Because he doesn't get it, this isn't going to be the last headline for Talib.
Let's be honest. I don't know what happened in Garland, Texas, any more than you do. I've read the reports, but I assume there is a reason they don't have a TV show called CSI: Garland. My guess is this case won't amount to much in court since the victim, Shannon Billings, isn't the most savory character himself. There is plenty of room for confusion as to who fired and in what direction.
Of course, the NFL — which has suspended Talib before — doesn't need a court case for a suspension. Then again, perhaps the Bucs shouldn't wait for the NFL. Perhaps they should punish on their own.
I know, I know. Over the course of Talib's rap sheet, the easy thing always has been to say it's someone else's fault. The other player started the fight. The cabbie was looking for a payday. The referee he was cursing shouldn't have cursed him back. And on and on. The stories keep spinning, and the excuses keep coming, and Talib keeps getting a pass.
If the latest allegations are true, however, if he fired a gun at another human being, how can the Bucs defend Talib this time? Other than the usual way, of course, which starts by talking about his considerable talent.
Let's agree on that. Talib is a gifted player. He's the most skilled player on the Bucs defense. He makes the team better. And, yes, turning him loose would make winning games a little harder.
Let's face it: On a lot of franchises, the more talented a player is, the easier he is to believe. And to believe in.
That said, the discussion shouldn't be about talent. It should be about how much trouble a franchise should endure in order to hang on to it.
As the Bucs have internal discussions about Talib, here's a question they need to ask. Besides talent, what matters?
If the answer is that nothing else matters, so be it. But if the team colors stand for something, if the franchise represents the community, then act accordingly.
It's a tough choice, but for the Bucs, it is time.
The next time something is fired, it ought to be Talib.