On Holding Out, Money and that NFC Title Game Loss
Welcome to my version of Monday Morning Quarterback. With Peter King on vacation, I have some thoughts on financial literacy in the NFL, the identity of the best QB not named Colin Kaepernick and the last word on that NFC Championship Game. But first, let’s talk about the elephant in the room...
Why I’m Holding Out
In 2010 I signed a five-year, $37 million contract extension with $23 million guaranteed. It was the biggest contract for a tight end in league history. Four years later, and I’m playing at a higher level than I was then, which brings me to why I’m holding out. It’s all about getting paid what you deserve. It’s not that complicated. I want the 49ers to win the Super Bowl, and I want to be on the field this summer working toward that goal, but I have to worry about my future first. Most of my teammates and many players in the NFL understand that. A few don’t. Behind closed doors, they’ll say they’re all about the team and would run through a brick wall for the organization. But when you look closer, they’re doing things to contradict themselves. I can’t listen to anyone but my family and my advisors, because those are the people who are going to be there when football inevitably dumps me.
The NFL's Money Problem
The majority of the NFL draft class of 2006 turns 30 this season, if they haven’t already. I left the University of Maryland as a junior after turning 22 that January. It’s been eight years, and already, the guy picked after me at No. 7 (Michael Huff) is out of football, and the first QB taken—Vince Young—is gone too. Yet it still was a great draft, in retrospect. Thirty-seven of us have made Pro Bowls, including 17 first-rounders; more than 200 did not. Where do they all go? Some of them will last a dozen years in the league as journeymen, happy to scrape by. Many only lasted two or three years. Some of them got that first check and bought a car, and then another, and then another. They take expensive offseason vacations to places they never dreamed of going, or they go to the club every weekend, like I did as a rookie, desperate to satisfy the kid in each of us who once fantasized about having money.
Financial literacy is the biggest problem I see in NFL locker rooms. Too many players spend their money on cars they don’t drive and homes they barely live in.
I like the rookie wage scale that limited the salaries of all draft picks, which is easy for me to say having not been affected by it. First-rounders deserve a significant chunk of the pie, but not at the expense of veterans. The truth is, for many players, the size of the contract doesn’t matter because they’re going to blow the money anyway. Financial literacy is the biggest problem I see in NFL locker rooms. Too many players spend their money on cars they don’t drive and homes they barely live in. I’ve had veterans on their second contract ask me for money. More often, it’s retired players who need the help, once the checks have stopped coming. It took me fours years to figure it out, to see not only guys crash and burn, but to watch other players with business sense and learn from them.
It should come as no surprise that quarterbacks are the best with their money. They’re the kids whose fathers owned small businesses or had comfortable enough careers to coach them up as kids. We didn’t have that. My parents were unstable or absent for my brothers Vontae and Michael, so we were raised by a grandmother in Washington. Many of the black players I know come from similar backgrounds, from single or no-parent homes. We were trying to figure out how to scrape together $5 while the quarterbacks were learning to manage a $100. Our young athletes need help, and that’s where the NFL and the NFLPA need to come in.
It’s not enough to gather rookies in June and tell them how not to go broke, or to offer an offseason financial seminar at a college. Those are great steps taken by the NFL in recent years with their rookie symposium and the player engagement program. But if they really want to save young players from themselves, they have to make it mandatory. Send a college professor to every NFL team and require all players to attend business seminars during training camp. Maybe guys didn’t pay attention during college, but the lessons take on a new meaning when you’re finally getting paid.
More than 300 of us enter this league every year, and there’s no excuse for any of us to leave it poorer than we started.
The Best Game I’ve Ever Played In
As athletes, we like to say we’ve moved on entirely from losses, pouring focus into next season. Often, that’s not true. Every once in a while, while I’ve been traveling this summer or working out or spending time with my family, I think about that NFC Championship Game against Seattle—the one Richard Sherman correctly described as the real Super Bowl.
A few things I remember:
- I’ve never sweated so much in a football game.
- I’ve never heard so much trash talk in a football game.
- I’ve never been more optimistic that we were going to get the job done as I was on that last drive.
You know what happened, of course; Sherman tipped Colin Kaepernick’s end zone attempt to Michael Crabtree, turning it into a game-winning interception. Kudos to the Seahawks, who won a Super Bowl with a defense that isn’t as simple as the players like to boast. I don’t know how they went about trying to stop the rest of their opponents, but they spent a lot of effort mixing up coverages against us.
But that’s not what stands out to me about that game. I think about the final play, and all the talk that followed it. Did Kaepernick make a bad throw, or a bad decision? Is Sherman lucky or good? My answers: Sherman is good. And Kaepernick made the right call, no matter the outcome. He took a shot. He put his trust in his No. 1 receiver. Sometimes they make the plays, sometimes they don’t. But in those moments you have to have faith that your guy is going to pull it down.
It was, and remains, a devastating finish. But I think it made Crabtree and Kaepernick stronger. Anytime you fall into a situation where stuff doesn’t go the way you expected, where you know you should’ve made a play but you didn’t, it makes you go correct it. With experience comes growth.
It’s exhausting to make it two years in a row and not finish. I hope my younger teammates realize that you can’t take the opportunity for granted. Whenever you get to play in a Super Bowl or a championship game, you have to win because you might not ever get it again. The window of opportunity is as small as a pea. Teams start to break up, players get old. You just have to seize the moment.
Going forward, we have to hold each other accountable and grow closer as a team. We have to love each other. We’ve got to develop better trust between the receivers and the QB. We need to lean on our coaches for knowledge and get every ounce that they have. If we can do that, we’ll get over the hump.
Travel Note of the Week
I spent last weekend in Park City, Utah, as a guest at the Lululemon retreat. I don’t have a beer or food note, as I kept it simple with water and chicken, but I do recommend the area highly. The atmosphere is warm and the sights are beautiful. If you ever find yourself in Park City in the summer, with the opportunity to ski down a ramp and into a giant swimming pool, take it.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think among the 31 NFL quarterbacks who don’t throw me passes, Russell Wilson is the best. He’s got all the tools; he has the ability to keep the play alive, and he’s very accurate with a strong arm. He exemplifies what it takes to be a winning QB in the NFL. If you asked me to choose based on record and experience, I’d take Tom Brady or Peyton Manning—but in terms of right now, my pick is Wilson.
2. I think the only thing we can do for Aldon Smith is support him and have his back and be there for him when he needs to talk. We don’t live with him, and we don’t see him on a daily basis. He has to take control and focus on doing everything the right way. He has to want it. He has to take charge.
3. I think in 10 years my goal is to host my own show, start acting, and continue to build a business empire. I look at Michael Strahan’s career as a model. I think you get there by doing what you want to do. If you know the formula to be successful as a football player, you know the formula to be successful after football. You have to be relentless.
4. I think fans pay more attention to the contracts of coaches and players than we do. I have my own contract. Frank Gore has his own contract. You don’t have time to worry about other guys’ deals because you have a lot to worry about on your own.
5. I think I’m grateful to have been drafted in San Francisco. There’s nothing better than these fans, the atmosphere and the weather. You enjoy life in San Francisco when you see what you’re surrounded by. I couldn’t have been drafted in a better place.
6. I think Adrian Peterson is the best athlete in the NFL.
7. I think Frank Gore is the most consistent athlete in the NFL.
8. I think Michael Sam is paving the way for other guys. They’re going to look at that and say, “If he did it, we can do it.” It takes a lot of guts and heart to come out. You probably will see a lot of other NFL players come out soon.
9. I think I would be upset if I were a U.S. soccer athlete and heard from my head coach that we had little chance to win the World Cup. That wouldn’t be good in sports, or life in general. Whenever you’re competing in any kind of organization, you want to be optimistic and competitive to the point that you’re challenging yourself and you’re keeping that faith. There is that famous saying, “If you think you can't, you’re right. If you think you can, you’re right.” Whatever you believe about yourself, it’s going to happen. We must remain positive to go out and excel. Competition is more about mindset than skill.
10. I think I was blessed to spend Father’s Day with my children. Fatherhood is a huge responsibility. My life is about making sure my son and daughter can survive and thrive when I’m gone.