What it feels like to have your world turned upside down.
I asked new Kansas City tackle Eric Winston, who was unexpectedly cut by Houston and signed a four-year deal with the Chiefs, to write a short piece about what happens when a veteran player gets whacked and has to find a new home. His thoughts:
"The general manager needs to see you" is about the worst thing any professional athlete can hear. Very seldom does any good, at least in the short term, come of it. Around this time of year, as well as the end of August, pro football players hear it too much. When it happened to me the day before free agency began, a few things ran through my mind. They can't be calling to cut me, I thought. But I also doubt that they would call me to the stadium to ask me how my trip overseas to see the troops went.
So I became a statistic. One day before my wife and I were set to leave on an anniversary vacation -- and three days after my return from Afghanistan visiting the troops -- I was called into coach Gary Kubiak's office so he could tell me that they were experiencing problems with the salary cap, had to make some tough decisions, and were therefore releasing me. After that meeting, I got to go see Texans general manager Rick Smith. In all fairness, I appreciate the way the Texans' organization handled it. They didn't tell me over the phone, let me find out through a media release, or hand me off to one of their subordinates to deliver the bad news.
So I was off to free agency for the first time in my career, to Miami and Kansas City. Fortunately for me, I have put together quality tape, and my agent started receiving calls as soon as I was officially available. We immediately started whittling down the list to teams that wanted to bring me in for visits.
These visits for teams are used primarily to give the player a physical and for you to sign off on the team so they can get your medical records and also for you to meet the coaches and see the facility. For obvious financial reasons these teams want to know about every injury and take new X-rays of nearly your entire body just to make sure there isn't anything new to find. After the half-day worth of doc visits, an intern drives you to the facility to follow up with the coaches and to see the facility. It doesn't quite compare to college recruiting; there's not nearly as much hand-holding and kissing up. While all of this is going on, your agent and the GM or team negotiator are talking numbers and seeing about a deal.
Kansas City was aggressive from the start. When a team schedules a visit, you usually receive a call from the general manager, head coach or position coach telling you how excited they are that you are coming in and how interested they are in you. With the Chiefs, I received calls from all three of them. They made it clear that I was a priority and that I needed to make sure that I got on the plane from Miami and make it to Kansas City.
When I met with Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, I got a little surprise. I had mentioned at dinner the previous night that when I came out in the draft in 2006, I didn't think the Patriots (where he was working at the time) liked me when I was entering the draft. Scott started laughing out loud and said, "No way, we liked you a lot.'' So the next day he showed me my Patriots psychological evaluation from 2006. To my surprise, it was very complimentary of me and was actually pretty spot on. I thought it was kind of crazy that someone could talk to me for 30 minutes and in that short time sum up what kind of player, worker and overall teammate I would be. Scott said that this is just one of the reasons why he wanted me. He went on to say that winning wasn't just about getting guys that could play, it was about getting high-character guys who come to work every day and were willing to grind.
Obviously that is always nice to hear, but more importantly for me, it let me know that the Chiefs were going to follow a formula that I believe is the only way to be successful for a long time in the NFL. Draft guys who can do it on the field, but also guys who are fun to be around, work hard and care about things like practice and trying to get better every day. Needless to say, I was sold on the fact that the Chiefs not only had a good chance to be a strong team next year, but for years to come.
But I needed to know where I'd fit in the offense. When I spoke with the coaches I was pleasantly surprised. The head coach, Romeo Crennel, has a great reputation around the league. Knowing that a new offense was being installed had me wondering what kind of offense would be coming in. The offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, has traditionally run more of a "power or gap" blocking scheme and the line coach, Jack Bicknell Jr., who just came over from the Giants, has done the same. Now, I feel like I could be successful in any scheme, but I really have grown to love running the zone scheme and understand it well. So going in I wasn't expecting to hear that the Chiefs would run a zone-blocking scheme, but that's exactly what I heard. That was like icing on the cake to what had been an already positive visit. I spent one more night in Kansas City and we worked out a contract to make me a Chief for the next four years.
Single guys can make a move like this easily. But having a family, and moving a wife, a 10-year-old daughter with plenty of friends and a 6-month-old son is another matter. To make it easy to understand for my daughter, I told her I had gotten traded to the Chiefs. She said, "Really?" (Which, of course, if you have kids, you know that's not a rhetorical question.)
"Who did you get traded for?'' my daughter asked.
I laughed, then came clean about getting released. She had a better understanding about the NFL than I thought, and certainly better than when I was her age.
In many ways, football's the easy part when it comes to switching teams. The life stuff is more difficult. Do we sell our house in Houston that we spent so much time making our own? Rent or buy in KC? How long will we really be there for? Will my kids adjust to the new part of the country? Will my wife have good friends on the new team? The questions linger.
I'm definitely not asking you to feel sorry for me. We get paid a lot of money to play a great game, but I am just trying to bring you into what is presently going on in my uncertain world right now. Plenty of guys around the league didn't get a four-year contract. Many of them got a one-year deal and will be facing the same visits and the same questions again -- if they're lucky. Each player's career is so fragile. Just look at Peyton Manning, maybe the best ever, is now on a different team after not playing last year when he injured his neck. The roller coaster ride that is the NFL doesn't stop at the end of the season. For most players, it's just begun.
"He liked my performance. I hope I like his performance.''
-- P.J. Benjamin, who plays Oz in the Broadway musical Wicked, to the New York Daily News Saturday night, after Tebow finished his first official day as a member of the Jets by attending his first Broadway show. Tebow went backstage after the show, according to the newspaper, and lauded all of the performers.
"Okay, so Peyton Manning was a tremendous MVP quarterback, but he's been injured. If that injury comes back, Denver will find itself without a quarterback. And in my opinion, it would serve them right."
-- Evangelist Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, talking about Denver's decision to sign Peyton Manning and trade Tebow.
"[Ross] said they had been shopping him for a couple weeks. Nobody would return their phone calls about getting him. If Chicago didn't take him, they would have ended up cutting him very shortly after that."
-- Miami Dolphins season ticket holder Jason Lawrence, to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Him'' is wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Lawrence talked about a phone call he got from owner Stephen Ross, who, according to Lawrence, said the team was lucky to get two third-round picks for troubled wideout Brandon Marshall.
"Did you hear Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos? When Tim Tebow heard the news, he dropped to one knee and prayed, 'Don't trade me to Cleveland!' ''
-- Jay Leno, in his "Tonight Show" monologue last Tuesday.
A former cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals Ben-Gal squad, Laura Vikmanis, has written a memoir. It's called It's Not About the Pom-Poms: How a 40-Year-Old Mom Became the NFL's Oldest Cheerleader -- and Found Hope, Joy and Inspirations Along the Way.
(Some of you might say, The Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me should end right there. A cheerleader writing a memoir. But I will plow forward.)
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Vikmanis wrote that the Ben-Gals were not always one big, happy family. "The most prominent division on the Ben-Gals is not between the young girls and the older girls,'' the memoir-penning cheerleader wrote, "but between the Real Boobs and the Fake Boobs. This is despite the fact that at any given time, a third of the Real Boobs are considering implants.''
If there were a Kardashian Best-Seller List, this War and Peace of cheerleader memoirs would be No. 1. Or 36. I'm not sure.
I wish I had a better travel note than this, because I traveled to Denver and Florida in the last seven days, but I cannot top ESPN reporter Josina Anderson's, as she returned on American Airlines from a trip to New Orleans reporting the Saints bounty story.
As she sat eating Corn Flakes on the plane Saturday morning, the man sitting next to her took his shoes off and, barefooted, put his feet on the wall in the bulkhead seat in front of them.
That is worth combat pay, ESPN. Reward the woman.
"Pretty funky visual during breakfast,'' Anderson observed.
I can think of a couple of words stronger than funky, Josina. I know travel is increasingly sardine-cannish, but I draw the line at four things:
1. Excessive security lines. Twice since January I've waited in a 50-minute or longer line. If airlines are going to schedule so many packed flights out of the same terminal at times close to each other, they should open up more security lines. Advice: Ask the Indianapolis airport people how they do it. Even those returning from the Super Bowl and using the airport late in the week marveled at how quickly the lines moved, and how many lines were open. Obviously that's a smaller airport. It's going to be worse at JFK or O'Hare or Atlanta, naturally. But JFK ... it's a total guessing game whether you need to get to the airport 100 minutes early or 40. So of course you have to get there almost two hours before flying.
2. Bare feet on display, and placed on seats or bulkheads.
4. Being an idiot to flight attendants. As in the woman on my United flight to Denver early Tuesday morning, who twice rang her flight-attendant call button to ask for a blanket, which, in coach, often either doesn't exist anymore or only does if there are extras from first class. The second time, she said, "It must be 55 degrees in here. Can you please do something!'' It wasn't. And happily, the flight attendant did nothing, and the woman shivered in normal temperatures most of the way across the country.
"Jets scrambling furiously to set up Tebow presser. Pews for beat writers only''
-- @NYPost_Serby, columnist Steve Serby of the New York Post, 21 hours before the scheduled noon press conference Monday in New Jersey for Tebow.
Good chance it'll be the first backup quarterback's press conference in NFL history carried live on ESPN.
"So Tebow goes back to where 1/2 of Florida is from.''
-- @sethpayneNFL, former NFL defensive lineman Seth Payne.
"There's only so many times a man that has done everything he's been asked to do can be disrespected! Guess the GOOD GUYS do finish last....''
-- @mattforte22, the Bears running back, after Chicago signed free-agent running back Michael Bush to a four-year, $14 million contract, with $7 million guaranteed. The Bears and Forte, the no-doubt No. 1 back on the team, are still trying to get a long-term deal done.
SI Now: Mark Wahlberg on his love of Boston sports
Pro Football Now: NFL Hall of Fame inductee Ronnie Lott