The Risky Draft Declaration Debate Verdict

January 18, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

I charged our esteemed writers with the task of writing an argument for a college underclassman turning professional in an uncertain NFL climate. With a possible lockout occurring in 2011, is it really wise for a college player – who does have remaining eligibility – to make a jump to the pros?

The topic is all too relevant as we enter the final weeks of the NFL season. It was not that long ago – November of 2010 – that NFLPA officials went on the record with the certainty of the NFL lockout. There is plenty of smoke surrounding the idea that we will not have an NFL season in 2011.

It is fair and proper for a college junior to sit down and contemplate the enormity of this decision. Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer made things difficult for any junior squarely on the fence with equally compelling arguments.

Loyal Homer crafted an argument carefully centered on the virtues of making gobs and gobs of money. He rightly pointed out that a rookie pay scale will likely be a part of the league structure when it does resurface should a strike take place, so the 2011 draft is the final opportunity for players to get unrestricted amounts of money. Loyal Homer also points out the value of getting money before possible injury disrupts a player’s ability to haul in a big payday.

The only problem with those two arguments is that the money for players picked outside the top 10 likely will not be vastly different between 2011 and 2012. Further, Sam Bradford and others have now proven that getting injured during a final college season after passing up on the NFL draft is not a draft stock killer.

Bleacher Fan convinced me beyond the shadow of a doubt that that injuries don’t matter, and extra playing time does. Rookies struggle to get reps in the pros right after they are drafted unless they are in the top 20-30 overall picks. Those reps are invaluable opportunities for experience, and with uncertainty surrounding the notion of securing professional reps in 2011, securing SOME reps is the smarter course of action.

Each college kids’ situation is different. There are some that come from really destitute family situations where the money would be life changing, not just for the player but for the whole of his extended family. There is no 100 percent right or wrong answer. But for kids on the fringe that are likely not top 10 picks (which, by the way, is the VAST majority of players), the money will likely not be that different in 2011 compared to 2012 – even with a rookie pay scale. So if the money is equal, then what is the most valuable factor in making this decision?

That factor is consistent playing time to gain experience and reduce the size of the learning curve between the college and professional game. A kid that thinks they can take the paycheck from a high draft pick, and then just sit and not get game experience or game action for a year – and then adjust to the pro game a year after NO playing time – is fooling themselves.

Not a perfect apples to apples example, but years ago Mike Williams – a standout receiver from Southern Cal… along with Ohio State’s infamous Maurice Clarrett – challenged the rules of early entry into the NFL draft. They lost, and were forced to sit out of football for a year. Neither player – when they finally reached the pros – was worth anything because of the amount of time they were away from the game, regular body maintenance, and general organized focus on their craft. Being around a college program for another year is far better than nothing, and they will have longer pro careers for making the investment in college now.

Oh, and they’ll have a college degree, too. Nothing wrong with that.

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The Risky Draft Declaration Debate

January 17, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

It is an understandably perplexing decision to make.

Put yourself in the following sticky scenario:

A few weeks ago you were a junior in college and a somewhat known amateur athlete. (The “somewhat” is appropriate only because you are on ESPN every so often with an occasional highlight.) You are a student, having to maintain a class load, attend mandatory study halls, and keep passing grades. Not to mention the huge commitment of volunteer time to perfect the craft of playing college football. You are a year away from your degree, happy, but less content that you used to be because you now have an eye toward the post-college “real world” and are struggling to define what that means.<br.

Then your bowl game comes, and as the final seconds tick off the clock you begin to be accosted by a variety of agents and others promising you big bucks if you make the decision to forgo the final year of your college education to enlist in the NFL draft.

It is a decision faced annually by a number of talented college football underclassman. Except this year is different. While the list of accomplished early entries into the NFL draft grows, so too does speculation NFL owners will lock players out from work in an attempt to leverage themselves into a better negotiating position for a necessary replacement to the expiring collective bargaining agreement.

Today’s debate asks our writers to make the decision about what to do – Should college underclassman jump to the pros (assuming they have an active league to jump to), or stay in school for another year to complete their degree… entering a more certain professional world in a year?

Loyal Homer will argue that it is too risky to jump to the pros this season, while Bleacher Fan argues the time is right.

Writers, explain your arguments thoroughly. Readers, put yourselves in the shoes of the players when reading this debate. That’s what I’ll be doing when I render judgment tomorrow.

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The Risky Draft Declaration Debate… Don’t Be a Fool, Stay in School

January 17, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Normally, I would be the guy screaming that a college football player should go pro the moment that he is deemed NFL worthy.

Unless you are a player who could use the extra year of college to help vault yourself into a much more worthwhile draft position (like moving from being a late first/early second-round selection one year to a top-ten overall projection the next), the extra year of college will probably not do you any good. In fact, you should take the money now and run, because the opportunity for a multi-million dollar contract won’t always be on the table, but while opportunity to finish your college education almost surely will be.

That is exactly the advice I would normally give to an underclassman NFL prospect. But the 2011 NFL Draft is not going to be a NORMAL draft.

What good is time spent in a gym, when it COULD be spent on the field actually keeping you fresh and in GAME-READY condition? More, what good is being drafted to an NFL franchise with the promise of a multi-million dollar contract that you can’t collect on because the league is on lockout and NOBODY is getting paid?

Well, those are exactly the prospects facing underclassmen who decided to take the early leap into the NFL.

The reason this year is different is because of the still unresolved issue with the still unresolved collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners. This is not your standard, run-of-the-mill contract negotiation, either.

Without getting into the minutiae of how each and every negotiation has processed, here is a simple breakdown of how we ended up where negotiations stand (a more thorough, but still understandable, explanation can be found here):

The current CBA was originally scheduled to expire in 2013, but owners chose to opt-out two years early. They feel that the players are taking too much of the league’s money, and have basically drawn a line in the sand, hoping to force the players into a renegotiation. With issues like an 18-game schedule, rookie salary scales, and player safety still unresolved, the likelihood of a new CBA being settled before the next season gets underway gets slimmer and slimmer.

In this situation, A plus B equals lockout.

With a lockout looming on the horizon there will still be an NFL Draft, but after that, all league operations cease. That means no trades, no rookie camps, no OTAs, and most importantly, no training camp and no regular season.

What that likely means to the group of underclassmen taking the early plunge into the NFL, is no security, and no playing time.

They will miss out on a most crucial period in their early NFL development – Rookie Camp. They will miss out on the opportunity to practice with and get to know their new teammates. They will miss out on the opportunity to test their mettle and learn from playing with NFL veterans.

Most importantly, they will do so WITHOUT guarantee of a paycheck, and without the luxury of a safety net that previous season salaries have afforded their new teammates.

What they SHOULD have done is follow the lead of Andrew Luck. Luck, who was almost certainly going to be the top overall draft pick, has decided to forego his opportunity to enter the NFL as an underclassman to return to Stanford for his final college season.

It is true that he will gain nothing financially. But while players like Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Mark Ingram, and Ryan Mallett are sitting in a weight room somewhere just hoping that a deal gets done, Luck will be playing real, competitive football.

Now I know what you are thinking (and what Loyal Homer has probably written)… what if Luck gets hurt in his final college season? Won’t that cost him money?

Well, Sam Bradford suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder at Oklahoma, not once, but twice. When the draft came around, who went first overall? Bradford, to the tune of a six-year, $78M contract.

Adrian Peterson suffered MANY injuries over his college career, including a broken collarbone that ended his final season after only a few weeks. But that didn’t stop the Minnesota Vikings from drafting him seventh overall, and signing him to a six-year, $40.5M contract.

I think it’s safe to say that both Bradford and Peterson are doing great right now, and with sports medicine being what it is today, the likelihood of a REAL career-ending injury is very slim. Most, if not all of the underclassmen from this year, would have played out their final NCAA season without incident. Those who were injured would likely STILL not have seen it impact their NFL earning power.

It’s a simple choice – risk missing an entire year of playing time to enter a league with no structure, and most importantly, no guarantee of a paycheck, or stay in college and continue to improve your skill set ON THE FIELD in REAL competition, while adding to your future value in the NFL.

For those who took early eligibility, they have essentially put a blindfold on and dove head-first into a career without having any idea what to expect. By waiting one more season, this year’s underclassmen could have let all the NFL CBA dust settle. Then, when they finally DID take the plunge, they would know exactly what they were getting into.

They would have at least maintained, if not improved, their NFL value… and would have done so by staying in game-ready condition for a whole year while the rest of the NFL spent their time lifting weights and twiddling their thumbs for zero salary.

Any gambler worth his or her salt will tell you that in this case, the risk is just not worth the reward. So to quote Mr. T – “Don’t be a fool. Stay in school.”

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The Risky Draft Declaration Debate… Reward Outweighs Risk

January 17, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

Last Saturday was the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft. As usual, the list contains names of future stars in the NFL. While some decided to chase fortune and glory immediately, others – notably Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck – chose to return to college. What makes things interesting this year is the extremely unstable NFL labor situation that is quickly arising, and it certainly has all of us fretting over what our fall Sundays would be like without football. Nonetheless, it is a very real possibility, and that possibility is at the core of our debate today. What are the chances (or likelihood) of a lockout making it risky for all the underclassmen to go ahead and declare? But, you know what? I say it’s worth the risk.

It does appear that no single player is going to get guaranteed money like players of recent drafts. The translation is for the high draft picks not to expect to get Sam Bradford or Matthew Stafford money, with signing bonuses approaching $50M in guaranteed money. For the record, I think that’s a good thing and certainly hope that is a part of the new collective bargaining agreement. Who knows what a so-called rookie pay scale will be (similar to what the NBA currently has in place), but we do know it’ll be much more than what you’d make by playing another year in college. [Insert Cecil Newton jokes here]. Many are saying that it’s too risky financially. Please tell me why.

The NFL still plans on holding its draft on April 28 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. That means we’ll still get to hear obnoxious Jets fans scream and yell when their team picks. These draft picks will eventually be able to sign their contracts. Underclassmen like Da’Quan Bowers and A.J. Green will be drafted and will eventually sign their rookie contracts. You can bet their agents will find a way to make sure they don’t go hungry, even through endorsements, autograph opportunities, or cash advances. These are all things that couldn’t be done if the kids were still lacing them up on Saturdays.

The same rookie pay scale that is likely going to be in place for the 2011 NFL season will be in place for next year’s crop of rookies also. So, the way I look at it is, this year’s guys are getting a head start. They are getting that rookie year out of the way, collecting that check, and perhaps more importantly, getting a year closer to that first free agent contract.

Then there’s always the risk that you either have an unproductive senior year or have an injury to curtail those NFL hopes and dreams. This time last year, it was almost a given that Jake Locker was going to be the top quarterback in this year’s draft, much the same way we are looking at Luck in regards to next year’s draft. Well, what happened? An up and down 2010 campaign for Locker cast serious doubt on his ability to play at the next level. Now he’s certain to be drafted behind underclassmen like Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Mallet. He essentially lost MILLIONS by returning to school and getting that degree.

It’s a cliché, but I am going to write it anyway. There’s risk in everything you do. But these guys have long had the dream of playing in the NFL and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Many of the guys come from urban areas where they didn’t have much growing up and felt like they couldn’t pass up the big pay day. Now, they have to believe that the NFL labor situation will be resolved soon and they will become professional football players with bigger bank accounts. The reward certainly outweighs the risk in this situation.

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