Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Draft Day All About Understanding Risks

I'm kind of a square.  Taking risks is not something I'm known to do.  I've never done an illegal drug, felt insanely guilty when I had my first drink when I was 18, would rather stay in and watch games than party, and drive the speed limit 99-percent of the time.

I'm sure my four-equal-sides, four-equal-angles lifestyle has cost me some fun life experiences, but I play it close to the vest, and am pretty happy with the way things have turned out.

I'll admit, there are times when I wish, if only for a day, I could slip on Charlie Sheen's shoes of chaos and mayhem.  It'd make for great stories, I'd probably feel as free as ever, and see things in a new, likely blurry, light.

Unfortunately, these are risks I'm not willing to take.  I've invested too much in my career, family, and friends to throw it away on a weekend bender (Scott Doyle's Bachelor Party next March excluded).

Sometimes the risk just isn't worth the reward.

To risk or not to risk is a question that takes center stage Thursday in New York City at the NFL Draft.

Committing a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract to a 22-year-old who has been told his whole life he is the greatest thing since jorts is the definition of rolling the dice.

If you hit snake eyes, your franchise could be set back for years. If you throw Yahtzee, it could be a decade of playoff runs.

In this day of twitter, facebook, and thedirty.com it's pretty easy to identify players with "character concerns."  College football players can't blow their nose without someone tweeting about it, so when they are doing keg stands with co-eds, it's plastered on the news wires immediately.

In some ways its unfortunate that these kids are followed by paparazzi like Brangelina adopted them, but it's the evolution of the sports' popularity.  As a General Manager, you don't want the next face of your franchise with more mug shots than touchdowns.

$35M, Spent $34.5M on Purp Drank
However, I don't think it's fair to say a player is a waste because it's taken him time to mature.  Yes, all of the athletes in the draft are adults by definition of age, but most are still learning what it means to be a man.

Nothing makes a man more than understanding humility and responsibility.  The NFL, more than any sport, needs to teach this lesson early and often.  Those who don't pick it up fail, those who respond succeed.

The league must take more of an initiative to make sure there are more Danny Woodhead's than Jamarcus Russell's.

The teams that decide to gamble on guys with troubled pasts need to make sure they surround their rookies with veterans and support systems that challenge them, rather than cater to their every want and desire.

Ryan Mallett
Mike Vick is a prime example.

In Atlanta, he was handed the world and not held responsible for his setbacks.  He was given passes when he cut corners and bent the rules because he was a star. Ultimately, that behavior caught up to him.  Not only did he hurt his career, but he scarred a franchise and city.

In Philadelphia, he was humbled by coming in as the third string QB and had veteran leaders like Donovan McNabb and Asante Samuel to guide him along.
Jimmy Smith

He not only transformed his game and had the best season of his career, but he transformed as a man, too.

Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Smith, and a host of others enter Thursday's draft with unbelievable talent marred only by their questionable life choices.

You don't shed your past problems over night and I don't expect that to happen to these prospects or any other in the future.  The teams that draft them need to go Gene Hackman Hoosiers-style,  "tear 'em down, to build them up."

The NFL can take a big step forward in assisting in the maturation of its young players by implementing a rookie pay scale.

Guaranteeing a kid $10-million, $20-million, $30-million, or $40-million right out of college is like a sleepover at the Neverland Ranch.  It may look harmless, but it's probably going to end in tears and disaster.

Instead, make these guys earn those record contracts.  Set a limit for their first two or three years.  It will make them work harder, humble them, and lessen their sense of entitlement.   A player that knows his big pay day depends on how he performs and behaves is less likely to pull a Vince Young making it rain in the Boom Boom room.

You add all these things up and you get fewer busts and an overall higher, quality product.

Risk is defined as "exposure to the chance of injury or loss."  The NFL will lose fewer of its players to "character and off-field issues" if it increases the incentive on the field.

As much as the league has a responsibility to help its young stars, ultimately, the onus falls on the individual.
Suh: Not a Bust! A Beast

Any coach will tell you, he'd rather his QB throw the ball out of bounds than try to make the big play into double coverage.  It's the "live to play another down" mentality. 

All rookies need to have this mindset.  No one wants a risk, they want someone committed to excellence, even if it takes time and extra effort.

With that said, there is no shame in taking risk, but hitting blackjack and not crapping out, depends on having a system and personnel in place that encourages sound judgment and long-term success, not spotlight and hype.

Teams that don't think they are ready to handle that responsibility should play it safe.

Being somewhat square can be o.k.

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