I’ve written pretty extensively about the College Gridiron Showcase held a week ago in Bedford, Texas, just outside Dallas. Its owners, Craig Redd and Jose Jefferson, took some chances and had big success, and I think the job they did will impact future all-star games.
Part of the week that helped sustain it financially was a workout on Monday that featured ‘street free agents,’ i.e., players who are no longer draft-eligible. The problem with such player is that the NFL forbids its college scouts from evaluating these players, which kind of defeats the purposes of their workouts. Unless a team sends its pro scouts to check out the action, there aren’t any NFL representatives to give players a chance. Most of the time, these players have been watched and evaluated multiple times, so pro scouts don’t see them as especially sexy.
However, big players are sexy. You can’t teach size. That’s why I’ve been thinking about an idea that might just attract NFL teams’ pro scouts to next year’s game.
Why not cast a wide net for ex-basketball players under 25 years old, then pitch them on the idea of trying football? Basketball players are the best pure athletes in college athletics, and they bring the kind of explosiveness and strength that the NFL is always seeking. What’s more, there’s a track record for such players. Jimmy Graham, Julius Peppers, Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez are all former hoops players that turned into stars on the gridiron. Even Steelers OT Alejandro Villanueva and Eagles OT Jason Peters, though not basketball players, are examples of big men who played other positions with varied success before finally plugging into the o-line and getting traction.
I’d been thinking about this idea for some time, but felt it wasn’t a powerful draw for a simple reason: basketball players not good enough for the NBA can still make good money overseas. Or, at least, I thought so. Last week, I had a long talk with Tyler Glass, who partners with his father to represent several NBA players when he’s not working with his NFL clients. Tyler told me two things that encouraged me. One, the international game is more fast-paced and doesn’t lend itself to players much above 6-foot-6, so the true giants aren’t especially valued in foreign lands. Two, most big men who do land contracts overseas aren’t making much more than $60,000-$70,000. That’s not bad pay for a few months’ work, but it pales in comparison to an NFL minimum salary of $435,000 for those who make a 53.
The NFL has a number of rules for the way all-star games can conduct workouts, and there may be several reasons why this idea would be untenable. However, what if it were? And what if we padded up 50-60 (or more) men 26 or under, and for a full day, timed them in the 40, ran them through pass-catching drills, weighed and measured them, and even did some modified pass-blocking drills? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to see if the next Graham or Peppers is out there, finished with his career on the hardwood and wondering what’s next?
It may be something worth looking at next year. Or am I crazy? Your thoughts on this idea would be appreciated in the comments section below.