Teams struggle to figure out how riches affect players
Posted: Tuesday February 27, 2007 1:01PM; Updated: Tuesday February 27, 2007 1:13PM
The biggest question NFL teams struggle with exiting the combine? How much these top prospects, 21-year-old kids, are going to be changed by money. JaMarcus Russell, from working-class Mobile, Ala., has never had the kind of money he's about to get. Ditto Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Joe Thomas.
The other day at the combine, I was talking with agent Brad Blank about one of his former clients, 1995 combine phenom Mike Mamula, the Boston College defensive end who had the best size-speed-strength combine in the history of the annual event. (At least until the last three or four years.) Mamula was going to be somewhere between a late first-round to third-round pick until he ran a 4.6 40 and bench-pressed 225 pounds as many times as Tony Boselli. Mamula made $15 million over six spotty, injury-riddled NFL years. He made it because of this great combine and because Eagles coach Ray Rhodes absolutely fell in love with his athleticism.
It's not that Mamula didn't try as an NFL player. He did. Injuries (a Lis Franc rupture, a nagging shoulder problem, an ACL tear, among others) plagued him as much as anything else. But Mamula will always be known in NFL circles as a guy who beat the system. He shot his way up the draft board, and once he made his first $7 million on his rookie contract, where was the motivation to kill yourself in training and rehab to get back to top form? And he never got back there. He never was the player Philly drafted. The Eagles staff always questioned how good Mamula might have been had he loved the game more.
Read Sports Illustrated this week and you'll find Russell talking about the doubts some have about his love of football. And you'll understand that the reason teams are skittish about these high picks' love of the game is very simple: If Russell gets fat and happy once he cashes his $30 million in bonuses and guarantees, the Raiders (assuming they pick him, which is my assumption) will have taken a huge hit financially. That's why you'll hear, over the next seven weeks, player after player whining about the cross-examinations teams put them through. Teams have to do that. There's too much money involved to assume every guy you draft is going to love football as much as Doug Flutie or LaDainian Tomlinson.
Now onto your email.
PACMAN SHOULD BE PUNISHED. From Don Sword of Nashville, Tenn.: "I'm going to have to agree with you on you comments about Pacman Jones. My hat's off to Jeff Fisher for giving him every opportunity to turn his life around. The only problem is, as soon as they cut him, he'll just end up on someone else's roster and Fisher knows it! The $5.4 million dollar cap hit is bad enough, but then to see Pacman playing against you is adding insult to injury. I noticed the players are stepping up, but that's not going to help in the situation. The Titans shoulder some of the blame in drafting someone with so many red flags with a high draft pick.''
My feeling is some time this summer, once the matter in Las Vegas is adjudicated, the league will suspend Jones for a minimum of four games but probably more. And the Titans will cut him. I don't see any way the Titans will keep him on the roster if -- and this is a big if -- the allegations by strip-club employees that Jones beat the tar out of a dancer are true. They can't. As for him ending up somewhere else, Patrick, sometimes you're got to do the right thing in life. And continuing to make excuses for this talented loser is very definitely the wrong thing.
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