NFL’s patience for draft or free-agent 'projects’ is dwindling

Discussion in 'Draft Zone' started by cowboyjoe, Apr 23, 2009.

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    cowboyjoe Well-Known Member

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    NFL’s patience for draft or free-agent 'projects’ is dwindling
    By MAC ENGELtengel@star-telegram.comRelated Content

    Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo seems to be an exception to the prevailing philosophy of the NFL. Romo, an undrafted free agent in 2003, spent three years on the bench before playing.

    Not long after the NFL went out and got itself stupid rich, one of the things that so many of the coaches, general managers and even players had previously has become an extravagance.

    No one has time anymore.

    The days when the Dallas Cowboys or Cincinnati Bengals could draft a player with the long-term vision of developing that person into a solid contributor are all but gone.

    "There has been a cosmic shift in the way front offices move these days," veteran NFL agent Dave Canter said. "I don’t care what anyone says — you have three years to make it in the NFL if you’re a coach, a GM or a player. After that, you’re out the door."

    On Saturday, the NFL begins its annual crash-course development program when the draft starts. Although coaches pay lip service for needing ample time to develop a quarterback or an offensive lineman, the first- or second-round picks play now and better be good now. And as for players seen as "projects," their clock ticks a lot faster and the clock is a lot cheaper.

    The league doesn’t have much time for projects. The coach and the GM don’t have time because they could be fired. The players don’t have time because teams are scouring fields all over the nation looking for cheaper replacements.

    With NFL Europe deemed a failure and no real grown-up minor league system, the chances of a player being allowed adequate time to develop are slim.

    Like anything, there are exceptions — Tony Romo is one — but the transitory and pricey nature of the league has made player development not extinct … but close. Romo, an undrafted free agent in 2003, was on the Cowboys roster for three years before becoming a starter in 2006 and eventually a two-time Pro Bowler.

    As for pro prospects in college, "we try to tell them all the time there is nothing guaranteed," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "We have [former players] come back and they tell them all the time just how hard it is. There are no guarantees in this whole situation and if one out of six or however many make it, those are great odds."

    How long a player is allowed to develop is basic math. The more money he receives in his signing bonus the longer a team will wait in hopes of a return. That usually means Rounds 1 through 3. After that, he better show something right away, play on special teams, and give a reason for one of the coaches to lobby on his behalf.

    "For every Kurt Warner there are another 500 of those guys who wash out," Canter said. "What happens is there is so little emotional and financial attachment to those guys they can easily cut them. The team may have spent $22,000 — total — to develop that player. That same team probably spent $22,000 on stamps that year. Probably more."

    Most players selected after the fifth round or those who sign free-agent contracts are usually all told the same thing — just get into camp. Prove you belong. And start to get it, quick.

    "You work — that’s what you want to do," said Cowboys second-year defensive lineman Marcus Dixon, who signed a rookie free-agent contract after last year’s draft. He spent the entire season on the practice squad, which is good for about $80,000.

    "You get in that first day and everybody is pretty much in the same shoes."

    Dixon’s goal is to earn a spot on the 53-man roster this year, and he hopes to work his way into the defensive line rotation at some point soon.

    "My whole mind-set is to just play football for as long as I can," Dixon said.

    If he can’t, then like any developing player he can try to play in the Canadian Football League. Or maybe ArenaLeague2; the "major" Arena Football League has shut down for 2009. The United States Football League remains un-launched. Those will be his other "best" options.

    "The game has been good to me and if the game takes me out, then I’m out," Dixon said. "That’s the way I think about it. I don’t think about not playing."

    Right now, Dixon has the time. But much like the new wave of NFLers who will be added on Saturday he’s on the clock.

    Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

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