When it comes to talking money in football, we’re often met with a double standard, whether it comes from the owners or from the fans themselves. If a player is cut, he often hears that “it’s a business”. But when it comes time to talk about compensation for his services, it’s supposed to be all about the love of the game.
But since the NFL is a business whose constituents hire employees to perform services, and they hire those employees from a very select group of specialized interns known as the NCAA, it’s not surprising that we are more and more broaching this frontier at the college level among the vaunted ‘student-athletes’.
It is becoming increasingly common, for example, for a player who has established his draft position by the end of his team’s collegiate season, to elect to look ahead to his future and decline to participate in his team’s bowl game. Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffery were among those who did, and they were taken in the top 10 of the draft. Jake Butt didn’t, tore up his knee, and was drafted in the fifth round.
Players get criticized when they opt not to play without pay when they have nothing more to benefit from doing so, but they recently gained a powerful new ally, or at least a newly vocal one, in NFLPA president Eric Winston, who is still playing for the Bengals.
Winston gave props to McCaffery, who not only declined to play in his team’s bowl game, but also denied all requests by teams to conduct a private workout. He participated in his team’s Pro Day and allowed teams to evaluate him there. And he was drafted eighth-overall.
“McCaffery actually took it another step”, Winston told Albert Breer of Monday Morning Quarterback, “and said ‘I’m not going any of the workouts either’”. He continued, saying, “good for him. I think back to December, and I said that’s really one of your first big business decisions that you have to make. Bottom line, it’s a business decision”.
Interestingly, Breer polled a number of general managers and personnel around NFL teams about Butt and where he would have been drafted had he not been injured. A couple believed he would go in the first round, while the majority had him in the third. None of them said he would go in the fifth.
“Whatever it might be, there’s not a right and wrong answer”, Winston said. “It’s a business decision that needs to be made, and shouldn’t be made because, ‘oh, they paid for my school’. It’s gotta be made because it’s the right business decision for you going forward”.
Obviously this all makes a lot more sense for players comfortably projected to go in the first or second round, with lesser talents still hoping to move themselves up on the draft boards. But it’s interesting to see players taking more control over the scouting process, and how it might develop even further as the years go on.