Johnson returned home to the New Orleans area, where April was also raised. April started to dig. He spoke to teachers and civic leaders, coaches and friends. He met Johnson's girlfriend and guidance counselor. And he spent time with Johnson, watching the 5-foot-8, 175-pound prospect catch passes from a machine and run across the Tulane practice field. Then, he looked Johnson in the eyes and heard his story.
"I was able to find out a lot about the kid, the kind of person that he is," April said. "From all of that, I told Howie I was just totally convinced that this was a mistake that the kid made that was out of character."
That is why Johnson is now on the Eagles. He started the first preseason game at wide receiver and punt returner and hauled in a 70-yard touchdown catch. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg gushes about him. So does April. And his presence on the roster is an example of how the scouting process can require more than grading footage and interviewing coaches.
Johnson is one of three undrafted players the Eagles signed whose draft stocks were mired by off-field issues. Cornerback Cliff Harris and safety Phillip Thomas are the others. The Eagles, like the 31 other NFL franchises, weigh the risk and the reward of a player such as Johnson. It was a quandary the team explored on a more high-profile scale three seasons ago, when Michael Vick was signed after 18 months in prison.
Similar to any subset of society, some football players encounter trouble. Louisiana State cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, a 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist, was dismissed from the Tigers for violating a team policy and has reportedly entered a drug rehab facility. Former Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson was released from the Dolphins after he was arrested on domestic battery charges and released on bail. Coaches and administrators throughout the NFL and in college football must determine which players are worth an investment and which are not worth the trouble.
"It's also the amount of resources you're putting into a particular player," Roseman said. "Your decision is different when you're talking about a first-round pick or significant guaranteed money than it is with an undrafted guy or a free agent who you're giving the minimum salary to. And the research is important."
The research involves everyone from the college scouts who are deployed to campuses throughout the fall to director of team security Dom DiSandro, who is often seen by Andy Reid's side during the season. Roseman said the Eagles' chief concern is projecting the probability of a player's avoiding trouble in a stable environment.
The Eagles have certain nonstarters with discipline issues, although Roseman declined to name what those were for competitive purposes. The other part of the equation is what Roseman terms "football character" - how important is football to the player? How hard does the player practice? Will football help the player overcome adversity? That is when contrition can be evaluated.
The team conducts background checks that also include discussions with high school coaches, college coaches, teammates, and interviews with the players. But Roseman was adamant that more information is always necessary. A contrite player looking for a job in an interview does not always suffice.
"When you're spending 20 minutes with someone, that's a hard way to judge someone and make a decision on someone," Roseman said.
That's why April visited Johnson. It's why he spoke to multiple contacts in New Orleans, people April trusted. What stood out to April was Johnson's sincere motivation to atone for the "mistake" and rectify his image.
"It affected my game in a positive way," Johnson said. "Knowing it can be taken away at any point, pushing me harder. Sitting out a season, there's doubt that maybe I lost something that I had. It got me more focused, more anxious to go out there and play and prove that I can still do something on the field."
Johnson echoed a sentiment shared by fellow free agents Harris and Thomas. All were once high-profile players on their college rosters with visions of NFL grandeur, and all lost their college careers and watched the draft without once seeing their name cross the screen as a pick. That decline instills an awareness of vulnerability difficult to fathom when life is splendid.
Johnson believed that his absence from a full season affected his draft stock more than his legal issue. But honesty about the off-the-field issue was essential, because the team's research would likely uncover any concealed misgivings.
Thomas, who failed a drug test at Syracuse and was suspended from the team, told NFL evaluators about the wrongdoing and also his backstory. As a child, Thomas was exposed to drugs and murders. Two of his cousins were imprisoned on murder charges, he said. He now takes regular drug tests to prove he's clean.
"They feel like, you're going to pay this guy, and they might mess up big time," Thomas said. "I'm trying to show them I deserve a second chance."
Because the Eagles experienced success with past troubled players - and Vick is the highest-profile case - the team feels more comfortable with what Roseman labeled an "educated risk" because of the strength of the locker room. That starts with Reid, who said those decisions cannot be made without a strong locker room.
But Reid also emphasized that there is little margin for error. An opportunity is provided, but a line is also drawn. And there is likely less leeway for an undrafted player than for someone such as Vick, whose talent was bountiful before prison and was still appealing upon his release.
"We all know America is a forgiving country, and I think everyone deserves a second chance," Vick said. "Let's just hope they make the most of it. That's what usually happens - when you get the second chance, you tend to slip up. But you have to be cognizant that you've been given a second chance and be grateful for it."
The other factor the Eagles try to consider is the age and environment of the player. There is a difference between poor judgment and a character flaw. The Eagles attempt to understand which designation the player's error falls under, and then gauge whether the mistake can at the very least be understood.
"If you took our scouts, and included me and everyone in the building at 18 to 22, and asked if they did anything wrong," Roseman said, "you'd probably find some people who did some things that now, if we're looking at them, we'd probably judge them if they were in the NFL draft."
Maturity often provides perspective, and that is what the Eagles try to investigate. It's what April detected in New Orleans. Roseman knows the team can never be entirely certain, just as there is no guarantee that a draft pick graded with clean character won't falter at some point. But they try to weigh the risk against the reward.
"In all these, it goes back to the individual player or person," Roseman said. "We just try to do our due diligence, make sure we at least feel comfortable when we make the decision that it's the right decision."
Contact Zach Berman at email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.