Does Character REALLY Matter in the NFL Draft?

The issue of character is one that’s often cited in NFL Draft circles, though no one can exactly put his finger on how, exactly, it impacts a prospect’s draft status.

Most often, when a player slides several rounds when none of the pundits expected it, a commentator will shrug his shoulders and mention “character concerns.” Other times, we hear of “off-the-field concerns” about players, but often don’t have a real smoking gun on why that is.

But here’s what we do know: teams care about more than just what they see on the field. Teams conduct interviews at all-star games, at the combine, and sometimes even after pro day workouts because they want to get to know a player before they decide on drafting him. Knowing how to interview and what to say is an important part of the pre-draft process. That’s why I’m excited about Blake Beddingfield and Jerry Angelo, the two men who will conduct interview prep for ITL clients for the 2019 NFL Draft class. Jerry will handle clients in the Southeast (primarily Florida) and Blake will cover the mid-South.

We’ve been offering interview prep for about five years now, mainly because we know it’s important and we want to provide an affordable service. In the past, we’ve had Jeff Ireland (now with the Saints), Ray Farmer (Rams), Phil Emery (Falcons) and other former scouts work with players. Why is it important? Because “many kids have been dumped after interviews,” Beddingfield said. “Couldn’t grasp their own offense or defense. Lied during interview. Didn’t (admit) felonies, etc.  One kid . . . came in the room wanting T-shirt’s for some (people) outside.”

There are other services that provide interview prep, but we approach it in a different way. The goals are twofold: we teach players how to present themselves in the best way, i.e., sell their own best qualities, and never lie or be dishonest.

“Here’s the biggest thing, and here’s what I’ve evolved to with these interviews: I customize it,” Angelo said. “If I’m doing a one-on-one session, I customize it to the player. First, I go back to his high school years and delve into his family background. If he’s got a solid family background, I bring that out and make that something he’s gotta get out to the teams. Some teams gloss over families, and some get into it. (If it’s a positive,) that’s gotta get out thee. It’s very important to his stability, a foundational stability that all teams can relate to.

“Then I take his football career, starting his junior/senior year in high school, and look at what he accomplished. Was he a captain? Did he play dual sports. I call this his bio. I make him write these things down as we go through it. Im interviewing him in the first 15 minutes ascertaining his facts. Then I go through his career, playing time, durability, accolades he might have achieved, anything I think is important that I know will resonate with teams. That’s where my expertise and experience come in, because I know what teams will glean in interviews. We need to be specific about who we are. What makes (the player) different and drawing that out from the player.

“Then I say, here’s our package. It’s five to six bullet points we need to get out in this interview. They may ask the questions, they control the questions, but (the player) controls the answers. You have to get those answers out.”

Jerry also explains the three things that teams are really looking for in any interview; how to present any “baggage” as a strength; how teams will specifically try to bait a player through interview questions, and how to avoid taking the bait; and how teams use interviews to break ties among players.

Incidentally, if you have a client who doesn’t get an invitation to the combine, don’t rule out interview prep.

“With the 30 visits that teams get, how many kids get drafted that didn’t go to combine? He’s gonna be one of those 30 visits,” Angelo said. “No team is drafting a player without giving him a physical first. When he goes on that 30 visit, he’s going to be interviewed. You want him to do it right and know what to do there.”

Learn more about interview prep, combine prep, scouting and evaluation, and pretty much everything else associated with the game by signing up for our weekly newsletter, the Friday Wrap. Here’s last week’s edition. And if you’re ready to sign up (it’s free, of course), click here. I hope you’ll join us.



Ask The Scouts: Does A QB Prospect’s Height Still Matter?

One of the things that interests me most about NFL scouting and evaluation is that it’s a moving target. There was a time 15 years ago when safeties were essentially devalued, and guards and centers never went in the first round. On the other hand, every team wanted a bell-cow running back, an Eddie George/Earl Campbell type who could take the ball 30 times every Sunday if necessary. Those trends have been turned on their heads in the last 5-10 years.

With that in mind, I was curious about the evaluation of passers going into the ’19 draft. Mobility seems more important today than stature, but I don’t work for an NFL team, so I decided to ask a few friends in scouting about it.

Here’s this week’s question: With Browns QB Baker Mayfield’s success this year, plus the success New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Seattle’s Russell Wilson are having in their careers, as well as the importance of mobility and rise of RPO offenses, do you think scouts are going to start eliminating (or reducing) height as a key requirement for QBs? 

We got several responses. Here’s a look:

  • “We have never eliminated any QB due to height. Just have to note their throwing platforms.”
  • “Yes. Heights for QB, RB, WR, TE are all gone now. Productive players are coming in all shapes and sizes now. The traditional model does not fit in NFL offenses anymore.”
  • “I think scouts already have adjusted evaluations in regards to the more athletic and shorter QBs over the past couple of years. As more of those type of QBs have success in the NFL, the more it opens doors. Although the QB’s height is being looked at differently, the body composition is still important regardless of how tall they are.”
  • “I do believe that height is not something that scouts will anchor on as much as in the past. The thing about a guy like Baker and some of these other guys is, they have found a way through their careers to find throwing lanes and compensate for their lack of height, which is depicted in their low amount of balls being knocked down at the LOS. With pocket awareness/mobility and an ability to find and feel throwing lanes, height becomes more of a non-factor.”

By the way, if you’d like to hear what former NFL QB (and now QB trainer) Alex Brink of Portland, Ore.-based E-Force Sports said about the topic, click here.

It’s a pretty interesting topic, in my opinion. Want to get more feedback on the topic? Sign up for the Friday Wrap. It’s chock-full of information about the finer points of the football business (read last week’s Wrap here), and of course, it’s free. We’ll have more scout responses in today’s edition.

It comes out at 7:30 p.m. CST every Friday, and thousands of people from around the football world read it every week. You should, too.

CGS Scouting Workshop Adds Cowboys Scout Hall to Speaker Lineup

At Inside the League, we’re dedicated to helping budding NFL professionals — aspiring scouts, agents, cap specialists, trainers and others — get better and find opportunities. That’s why when the co-founders of the College Gridiron Showcase, Craig Redd and Jose Jefferson, asked me to help put together a scouting event for last year’s game, I was more than happy to oblige.

We came up with the 2018 CGS Scouting Workshop Presented by Inside the League, which we talked about last week in this space, and it went exceptionally well. We had a lineup of speakers that were, at the time, out of the league, but I knew that wouldn’t last; three of the four are already back in football in some capacity, and the fourth, Rodd Newhouse, has been a successful wealth manager in the Dallas area for about a decade now (in other words, he and isn’t trying to get back in). Here’s a clip from last year’s workshop; if you haven’t watched it yet, stop right now and do so.

Right now, we don’t have the complete lineup for this week’s seminar yet, but we don’t have one key member. Cowboys College Scouting Coordinator Chris Hall will join us Saturday, Jan. 5, at the Fort Worth Convention Center. It’s too early to know when Chris will speak, but we’ll go from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. and the day will be jam-packed with good stuff, especially if you aspire to be an NFL evaluator someday.

Chris won’t be spilling any secrets on the players the team is placing atop its draft board, though he could; in a business that has become about as volatile as they come, Chris has had a phenomenal run in Dallas and has become an integral part of the team’s braintrust. For almost three decades, he’s been with the team, mostly in his current role. And while he’s no stranger to Cowboys football, he’s also no stranger to the Metroplex as he’s an SMU grad.

My hope is that Chris will talk about his job with the club; one thing I’ve learned by working in football for almost two decades is that no two teams do the draft the same way. Often, the ‘college scouting coordinator’ post is given to younger scouts on staff, but the Cowboys obviously hold the title in much higher regard. I’m also eager to hear more about Chris’ journey from SMU to America’s team, and how that transpired.

I also look forward to getting Chris’ opinion on where scouting is going; the value of analytics and how (or if) the Cowboys use metrics; how the team identifies and hires new scouts; how the team conducts its draft-day war room; what other teams Chris admires for their drafting acumen; and/or any other topic Chris would like to address.

Make sure to stay tuned to the Scouting Workshop web page, where we’ll have registration information soon. Also, make sure to keep up to date on the progress of speaker invitations, subject matter and registration by signing up for our weekly Friday Wrap, which comes out this evening. You can register for it here.

The 2019 CGS Scouting Workshop: Here’s Why You Don’t Want to Miss It

Today, I want to give you a preview of what you’ll see and hear at the 2019 College Gridiron Showcase Scouting Workshop Presented by Inside the League  on Saturday, Jan. 5, in Fort Worth, Texas. But rather than just telling you about it, here are three videos from last year that really capture the day. Here goes:

  • In this segment, former Rams area scout Danton Barto (now with the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl) and former 49ers and Browns area scout Bob Morris (now with the AAF’s San Antonio franchise) talk about how they became NFL scouts and how their respective hiring processes worked.
  • In this segment, Morris talks about why he never (or rarely) went to the Shrine Game, the No. 2 all-star game; how schools were color-coded according to the talent on their rosters; why the secretary is the person to get to know at every football office (“she has the keys to the kingdom”); what other scouts used to do in the film room that drove him crazy; and plenty of other good stuff.
  • In this segment, Barto talks about several controversial players he scouted or saw during the draft process (Browns OT Greg Robinson, Dolphins OT Laremy Tunsil, Giants DC Janoris Jenkins, Cowboys DE Randy Gregory and Cowboys OT La’el Collins among them). He’s also very open about drugs and how they impact a player’s character grade (it’s not nearly as much as you might think). I promise you — if you love the NFL Draft and you love scouting, you will watch this segment more than once. You may watch it daily for the next two weeks. Danton is a joy to watch, mainly because he’s such a candid, genuine guy. That’s why everyone loves him. His story about the day he had to cut DE Alonzo Spellman — I won’t spoil it. But you gotta hear it.

If you read this blog, you’re a fan of “inside football.” You may not live near Fort Worth, Texas and you may not want to spend $99, but where else are you going to find people talking about the nuts and bolts of life as an NFL scout? Telling stories about the business? Sharing the positives and negatives of a scout’s life?

We don’t have a confirmed speakers list yet, but we will soon. In the meantime, all you need to know is that we’re going to knock it out of the park. What’s more, if you’re willing to stick around through Wednesday, you’ll get to meet people from across the game and maybe make a contact that gets your foot in the door. We will even plug you in as a volunteer if you’re interested.

We’ll have more as we get closer to the big day, and by next week, we’ll start accepting registration. In the meantime, the best way to keep up with our speakers is by signing up for our Friday Wrap. it’s free, and you can do that here.


Introducing Our New Book, Moving the Chains: A Parent’s Guide to the NFL Draft

Today’s a day that’s been years in the making.

When you get into the business of helping people succeed in football, you get a grass-roots understanding of the problems they face. When I launched Inside the League in 2002, the idea was to root out and expose the bad agents in the business as well as cracking the scouting code and figuring out why some players make it to the NFL and others don’t. We’re pretty much 0-for-2 on those goals, but there’s something we have gotten pretty good at: helping parents and their sons negotiate the obstacles of the NFL Draft process.

The parents of players like Giants DE Connor Barwin (2/46, Texans, 2009), Cardinals WO Christian Kirk (2/47, Cardinals, 2018), Dolphins OC Travis Swanson (3/76, Lions, 2014), Jaguars DT Taven Bryan (1/29, Jaguars, 2018), Redskins OT Morgan Moses (3/66, Redskins, 2014) and many more have read our newsletter during the run-up to their sons’ respective selections in the draft. Many of them have been kind enough to give us testimonials.

I think they’ve found our series helpful because it breaks down what NFL scouts do, how all-star games work, what you should expect from an agent, who gets invited to the NFL Combine, and a number of other topics. You can get an overview of our series here. For five years now, we’ve cold-called the parents of rising seniors and pitched them on our free newsletter. We’ve gotten some interesting responses for sure, but enough people took us up on our offer that we’re still reaching out to parents even today.

However, there’s more to the topic than can be covered in four weeks, so we expanded our newsletter into a book, and today, we introduce Moving the Chains: A Parent’s Guide to the NFL Draft. If you’ve read our newsletter, the first quarter of the book will look very familiar to you. However, in the rest of the book, we develop all the things we touch on and really tell stories, provide numbers, and share nuggets that we just can’t provide within the bounds of a newsletter series.

Maybe you’re the parent of a young man who will be eligible in this or a coming draft cycle. Maybe you’re an aspiring NFL player who’s still a few years away, or you’re close to someone who is. Maybe you hope to be an agent someday, or you’re a college student majoring in sport management and thinking hard about being a contract advisor or scout. My book is something you should read. We go inside the process in a way that I always sought before I launched my site. And believe me, all of this matters. You can learn it the hard way, but why would you?

Here’s the best part. It’s just $12.95. It’s about the cost of a burger and fries at your favorite fast-food joint, or a piece of pie at one of those fancy dessert places.

Here’s the next-best part. It’s only 150 pages. You can read it in a couple hours. I mean, come on, it’s football. Our idea of a big word is “substantial” or “Indianapolis.” You can handle it. If your wacko uncle starts going off about politics at the Thanksgiving table, you can excuse yourself, read our book, and by the time you’re done, he’ll be sleeping off the turkey. You’ll be all set.

Want to learn more? We’ll talk about it more in today’s Friday Wrap, which comes out at 7:30 p.m. EST. It’s free, and you can register for it here.

Who Did The Best In The ’18 NFL Draft? Here Are Five Candidates

Last year, we asked the question, why doesn’t anyone reward the team with the best NFL draft class? When we couldn’t come up with an answer, we decided to step up and do it ourselves. After holding a vote with only current and former NFL scouts voting, we presented the New Orleans Saints with the first-ever ITL Best NFL Draft Class Award for 2017 at our annual combine seminar.

We’ll do it again in February at our 10th annual seminar. But who will voters choose? It’s still too early to tell, but since we’re at midseason, it’s time to take a look at the possible finalists for the award. Here’s who we’re considering with half the season left to go, in no particular order.

  • Browns: It’s been an up-and-down season for the top pick in the draft, but QB Baker Mayfield deserves the benefit of the doubt so far. At worst, he seems to give Cleveland a passer the team can build around. Meanwhile, DC Denzel Ward looks like a keeper, as well, and we’ll know more about OH Nick Chubb by the end of the season as the team shipped out OH Carlos Hyde a week and a half ago. WO Antonio Callaway has provided glimpses of ability, too, as has OB Genard Avery.  Right now, the Browns look like the early leaders for best draft.
  • Colts: First-round OG Quenton Nelson has been solid, but the real find so far has been OB Darius Leonard, a true difference-maker the Colts found in the second round out of South Carolina State. The team also found a starter at right tackle, Braden Smith, one pick later, and fourth-round OH Nyheim Hines has been a threat as a rusher and a receiver.
  • Giants: Running back Saquon Barkley has been as-advertised, an undeniable talent and the leader in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race. Also, DT B.J. Hill looks like a building block, or at least part of the solution on defense. As for the rest of the team’s draft class, the grade has to be ‘incomplete.’ Guard Will Hernandez is learning on the job for a weak offensive line but there’s hope he’ll come away from the season as a bright spot. We may find out sooner rather than later what the team has in QB Kyle Lauletta, though there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding DT R.J. McIntosh.
  • Broncos: Denver struck it rich twice, once in the first round with DE Bradley Chubb and once after the draft, when it landed UDFA OH Phillip Lindsay. We could see a lot more of WO Courtland Sutton in the second half with fellow receiver Demaryius Thomas now in Houston, so their draft could look even better in the second half.
  • Jets: So far, QB Sam Darnold has had his problems, but he’s the starter, no questions asked, so presuming he stays healthy, he’s got a chance to learn from his mistakes and make the Jets’ draft class look really good. In non-franchise QB news, the Jets also got a starter on the DL in the third round (DT Nate Shepherd) and fourth-round TE Chris Herndon is tied for the team lead in receiving TDs with three.

There are several other teams that could edge their way into the top five, and we’ll look at five more of them today in the Friday Wrap.

Not registered for it? Why not? It’s free, it comes out at 7:30 p.m. ET every week, and if you’re into the football business, we promise you’ll find it to be a good read. Register here, and check out last week’s edition here.

Twelve ‘Football People’ the XFL Should Target

On Thursday, we at Inside the League pointed out a couple of the Alliance of American Football’s hires for their central offices, to wit, two men with a strong NFL background (Director of Player Personnel Russ Giglio and Executive V.P. of Football Operations Trey Brown) and another with ESPN ties (Senior Administrator of Player Personnel Joey Roberts).

When you factor in the hires of Bill Polian, Tony Softli and Bill Kuharich to the AAF’s central command, plus the dozens of former NFL GMs and scouts who’ve been hired by the eight league teams, you start to wonder if there will be anyone with experience left for the XFL, which launches in 2020, to hire.

Of course, it’s not as easy as simply Googling “NFL scouts fired.” How do you sort through the self-promoters? How do you know who is worth another shot vs. who totally blew it and doesn’t need to be recycled? Which ones have the energy and patience to be associated with a football startup? And while most people with NFL jobs are loathe to give up their jobs, how do you know which ones might be willing to take a risk?

There will certainly be new scouts, officials and executives that come available by the end of the year, but here’s where I’d start as the league begins to look for real ‘football people.’ However, here’s a dozen people (in no certain order) that warrant consideration if the powers-that-be don’t want to wait.

  • Jeff Bauer, former Director of College Scouting, Jets: Jeff got washed out in New York when Mike Maccagnan took over as GM. He’s no longer in the league because he didn’t play the game — the ‘you scratch my back’ game; he was a DB at Iowa State — and he was never a self-promoter. He’s a guy who kept his mouth shut and did his job. He’s loyal and deserves another chance.
  • Blake Beddingfield, former Director of College Scouting, Titans: Blake has had opportunities, but not the right one yet. He’s highly organized, smart and knowledgeable about scouting as well as the business of football. He’d be an excellent hire.
  • Cody Cejda, Director of Football Operations and Strategy, Northwestern: Cody is the only name on this list without NFL work experience, but he’s a consummate professional, well-connected and highly organized. To succeed, the XFL might have to take a few risks. Cody would be well worth it.
  • Mark Dominik, former GM, Bucs: My understanding is that Dominik has been conducting interview prep from his base in Tampa since he left the Bucs. People with experience running NFL front offices don’t grow on trees.
  • Ray Farmer, former GM, Browns: We all know things weren’t pretty in Cleveland. However, I know Ray as a progressive thinker who was already trying to crack the analytics code when he was dumped in Cleveland, and he’s got an impressive resume.
  • Matt Manocherian, Director of Football Development, Sports Info Solutions: If you want to succeed in today’s pro football environment, you need to do things differently. Matt brings NFL scouting experience (Browns, Saints) as well as a tremendous handle on what analytics can tell you about today’s prospects.

OK, we lied. For the other six candidates we like, you’ll have to wait for our Friday Wrap, which comes out at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can register for it here.

Of course, there are several others that are prominent in the media, such as ex-Browns GM Michael Lombardi of The Ringer, former Eagles Director of Pro Personnel Louis Riddick of ESPN and others. On the other hand, they may see how things have worked out for their former media associate, Jon Gruden, and decide to stay the course. There’s also former Niners GM Trent Baalke, who’s working with the NFL and likely cooling his heels, waiting on another NFL opportunity.

Don’t forget: there’s plenty more to talk about in the business of pro and college football (plus six more men the XFL should be considering), and we do that each week in the Friday Wrap. It’s free, it’s full of information on the business of the game, and it’s read by literally thousands of people in the business as well as others who will be part of its someday. Here’s last week’s edition. Register for it here.

Ask the Scouts: Is Bosa Starting a Bad Trend?

You follow the game, so you already know about Ohio State DE Nick Bosa’s decision to scrap the season and move forward in preparing for the ’19 NFL Draft. The true junior, who has missed the season so far as he’s struggled with a core injury, is expected to be a top-five pick, as was his brother, Joey, in 2016 (1/3, Chargers).

I was curious to know what people in scouting thought about Bosa’s decision, not so much as it specifically affects Bosa, but as it impacts the evaluation process in general. So I reached out to several friends in the business, and asked them this.

Do you think it’s a good thing for scouting (don’t have to wonder if he was healthy this season, gives you a chance to evaluate his backups/more players)? Do you think it’s bad (fewer games to evaluate for Bosa, plus it could ignite a larger trend)? Or does it have very little impact on scouting and player evaluation? 

We talked to 13 active scouts to get their feedback. Though you might expect alarmist responses from a generally traditionalist audience, some applauded Bosa’s decision, or at least expressed understanding of why he did it. Here’s what they said:

  • “I don’t think it will signal a larger trend, but I could see a few top players in a similar situation possibly doing the same thing in the future. I don’t see players en masse sitting out.”
  • “Little impact on scouting. Only thing really is that it may give insight to what he’s going to be like when it comes to contracts down the line.”
  • “It’s all a moot point. Apparently he wasn’t going to be healthy enough to play anyway.”
  • “Same category as players who decide not to play in bowl games. There will be some chatter as to how this will change the ways scouts view this player: does he compete every (day)? Is he a team player? In the end, it won’t make a difference.”
  • “I don’t think it will be a trend any more than how things play out now. It’s all about the advice kids get. I mean, you have (Stanford OH Christian) McCaffery (perceived great kid and team guy) not play in his bowl game vs. the Texas kids who got blown up for leaving their teammates a year ago. I always like to see guys play as much ball in college as possible, but you also have to consider each circumstance on its own.  Rodney Anderson at OU is another one this year.”
  • “Great question. In reality, it doesn’t really matter if it’s good for scouting. What is important is whether it is good for the player and good for the university. Scouts shouldn’t take it personally. If they want to hold it against him or project out how he’ll handle the business of the game, that’s their prerogative. If they simply note the new situation and carry on, that’s probably a healthy way of handling it, too.”

On the other hand, other NFL evaluators saw negatives associated with Bosa’s decision, and not just because of a perceived disloyalty toward his fellow Buckeyes. We’ve got several takes (seven in all) from other scouts that were a bit less bullish on Bosa’s choice. Check them out in this week’s Friday Wrap. You can register to receive it — just as thousands of NFL insiders from across the business spectrum do each week — right here.

Were you a little late to register? No sweat. You can access our Friday Wrap for Oct. 19 here.

NFL Draft Analysis: Is It Mostly Good or Bad to Skip Your Senior Year?

At Inside the League, we’re always interested in looking at the draft in ways others don’t. With half the college season wrapping up after this weekend, this week, we thought we’d look at the true juniors, redshirt juniors and redshirt sophomores that might be thinking of passing up their respective seasons.

We hear a lot about the poor decisions so many players make in leaving early, and how the number of early entries is inclining steadily. The NFL puts a lot of resources into educating players on their pro chances, yet still, the perception is that countless players are throwing away their college careers to chase wild dreams, often egged on by unscrupulous agents.

Based on our look at the numbers, that perception doesn’t match reality. Do players who leave early blow their chances of getting to the league? For the most part, no. Consider.

  • About one in seven players who leave early (15.5 percent) won’t make a 53-man roster or practice squad at all. Looking at those numbers as half-full, rather than half-empty, just over 84 percent will make an NFL team, at least for a little while.
  • Numbers aren’t available on what percentage, on average, doesn’t even make it to an NFL camp, but I’d estimate it’s about half of that. Again, turning the numbers to half-full, I’d estimate that more than 90 percent of those leaving early at least make it into a camp.
  • Would another year in college have made any difference? It’s impossible to tell. What percentage of those players left school with eligibility remaining, but already had a degree? Those are also numbers we don’t have.
  • More on education and degree completion: it’s worth noting that most often, offensive linemen make it furthest in their coursework because they redshirt their first seasons. However, of the 87 players in the last five years who left early but never made it to the regular season, just six were offensive linemen.
  • More on the players that never made it to the regular season: 26 of 87 (about 30 percent) were from FCS-or-smaller schools, which statistically only make up about nine percent of the league anyway. If you’re leaving early for the NFL and you didn’t play FBS, it’s like having to notch a hole in one for the chance to make a half-court shot. The odds aren’t good.

At the end of the day, if you’re a player who feels he’s had a good season, is ready for the league, and has explored all his options and submitted his name for review with the NFL, I don’t think it’s a completely outrageous idea. After all, the NFL can be a very fickle organization, and your chances this time next year are not automatically as good as they are this year, especially when you figure in the chance of injury.

At the same time, before you make any decisions, we recommend you look at the hard numbers, which you can do here (with an ITL account, that is; sorry).

One question we’ve avoided entirely in this space is, what are the statistical chances a player who leaves early gets drafted? We take a long look at that in this week’s Friday Wrap, analyzing our statistical breakdown, which is presented here (sorry, it’s an ITL link again).

Make sure to check out our full look at early entries, where they wind up, and why in today’s Friday Wrap. You can register for it here.

Ask the GM: How Does a Team Handle an Earl Thomas Situation?

It’s been a privilege to get to know former Bears GM Jerry Angelo over the last few years. Jerry is not only an incredibly connected and experienced veteran of NFL front offices (scouting with the Cowboys and Giants and serving as personnel director of the Bucs before heading to Chicago), but he’s a true gentleman and a man of great class.

Jerry has headed Inside the League’s interview prep work over the last couple years, and he’s worked in classroom settings and one on one with dozens of top draft prospects over the last several years. However, Jerry’s true value comes in drawing on his time in the league to address situations that arise in the NFL. He’s a great sounding  board and provides counsel on a number of football topics to people across the game.

For this reason, I reached out to Jerry this week to give me some perspective on a storyline that has dominated the early going of the 2018 season (and to some degree, even ’17): Seahawks safety Earl Thomas and his ongoing attempt to get a new deal from Seattle or to press for a trade to a team that will give him one.

There aren’t many people alive with first-hand experience in situations like the one that faces Thomas and the Seahawks, but Jerry is one of them. With that in mind, I decided to ask him about the Thomas scenario in Seattle as well as the Bell situation in Pittsburgh. My questions, and Jerry’s answers, are what follows.

  • Did you ever face a situation where a key player and locker room leader was openly dissatisfied with his contract with several years left on the deal, and campaigned for a trade? 
“I have experienced the situation you described where high-profile players were disgruntled with their contracts. I had several situations, one with (former Bears LB) Lance Briggs, (Bears) running back Thomas Jones and (Bears TE) Greg Olsen. All wanted new deals and requested trades if we weren’t able to accommodate their demands. For whatever it’s worth, they were all represented by the same agent. I’m not blaming the agent; it was just a coincidence.
“Saying all this, all I can say when you’re in those dilemmas, you ultimately have to do what’s in the best interest of the team. In Briggs’ case, we were able to work things out. Unfortunately, the other two situations ended up with us trading the players, which was my last resort, but we had to do something or potentially watch things continue to escalate and have a very negative affect on not only the player, but the team.
“The lesson is twofold. Do your best to stay in front (of) taking care of your core players. Secondly, when you come to an impasse, don’t put your head in the ground. It’s about damage control, and again, when in doubt, the only question to ask is, ‘How does this affect the team?’ “
  • How would you have handled this situation, starting with the time that Thomas initially expressed dissatisfaction with his contract?
“Really, I can’t sit and give a specific answer. I have a lot of respect for the Seahawks and their front office. I don’t know (if) they didn’t try to get something done, but couldn’t. There were some trade rumors, but we don’t know the specifics. These types of things happen all the time.
“All I can say is, that’s why they have contracts. A player can show dissatisfaction, but the bottom line is, he agreed to it. No one twisted his or his agent’s arm to take his last deal. Naturally, the next contract/contracts for players at his position are going to be larger in all likelihood, and why? (Because) the cap keeps going up. Players understand this, and certainly their agents do. Unfortunately for Thomas (I’m presuming), he won’t accept it. His gesture was child-like and uncalled for. Why? Because he didn’t get his way, and because he got injured, it’s the team’s fault? That’s what babies do.”
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This week, we’ll continue our conversation with Jerry, asking him several other questions, including how to maintain team harmony and salary structure in this situation; whether or not you risk losing the locker room in this situation; and how he would compare the situations involving Thomas and Steelers OH Le’Veon Bell, who’s also in a contract dispute.
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