Small-school products, Fraley and Jackson worked their way up.
By Peter King
Tom Brady is secure; so is Reggie Bush. But in 32 camps across the country, hundreds of lesser-known players are fighting for their football lives. Over the next three weeks jobs will be won or lost, careers will be made or broken. It's the unforgiving law of the NFL jungle
The day before he reported to training camp in late July, Philadelphia Eagles center Hank Fraley and his wife, Danielle, stopped at a convenience store near their home in South Jersey. Fraley is a recognizable guy, a 305-pound bulldog who has endeared himself to Philly fans by anchoring the offensive line since 2001 -- 71 gritty starts -- and queuing up for cheesesteaks at Pat's or Geno's like a native son. But Fraley missed the final eight games of 2005 with a torn shoulder tendon, and his backup, Jamaal Jackson, played so well that the coaches told the two this spring they'd be competing for the starting job in camp.
A man in the store stopped Fraley to say hello, then added, "I just heard about Jamaal's contract extension. Sorry about that."
Fraley was stunned. The Eagles had told him there would be a fair competition for the center job, and now they give the kid a contract extension? The next day, when Fraley reported to camp at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., he learned it was true: Jackson had signed an incentive-laden, six-year deal that, if he beat out Fraley for the starting job, would be worth about $14.9 million. Most significantly, the deal included a $1.75 million bonus, and the frugal club doesn't give bonuses to players they don't intend to keep. The 28-year-old Fraley was coming off eight months of grueling rehab and entering the final year of his contract, and the Eagles had said nothing to him about an extension. He was further shaken when Philadelphia offensive line coach Juan Castillo announced practice assignments at the unit's first meeting: Jackson would get most of the snaps with the No. 1 team. For the first time in five years Fraley would be practicing with the backups. When he called home that night he told Danielle, "I am so pissed off right now."