NFL and NCAA must act to save the Senior Bowl

Years of college football and attending the Senior Bowl didn't do Russell Wilson any harm

I remember glancing at the names tabbed to appear at the Senior Bowl this year and thinking…


Right from the start it looked like an underwhelming group. A lot of the big names were no-shows, citing injuries or a ‘business decision’.

One headline stated: “NFL GM: ‘It’s the worst Senior Bowl talent I’ve seen‘”

Greg Bedard at MMQB wrote: “The prevailing opinion among scouts and executives was that this is the weakest crop of first-round talent at the Senior Bowl ever.”

Yet it shouldn’t be a big surprise that this once excellent event is becoming little more than a combine appetizer.

The sheer number of underclassmen entering the NFL is having a huge impact.

This year it’s 98 turning pro, up from 73 in 2013 and 65 in 2012.

Next years event is already setting up to be a complete stinker. With so few players lasting the distance in college, there just aren’t that many good Seniors that qualify.

Even letting four-year juniors in hasn’t given it that much of a kick-start.

The NFL and the NCAA need to get together and save the Senior Bowl.

Not by allowing juniors in. But instead by addressing the real issue at play here.

Agents and bad advice.

The crux of the problem is the new CBA. The big money isn’t there for rookies any more, not unless you go in the top ten.

Agents are advising prospects to chase the second contract by entering the league as soon as possible.

Unfortunately this is terrible advice.

The average length of a NFL career is three years. A heck of a lot of players don’t see the end of their first contract, let alone get a second.

Rushing into the league is not a good idea.

For some players, they need that time in college. With certain positions — quarterback being a great example — you just can’t beat reps on the field.

For every Richard Sherman out there — set to earn millions after going in round five — there will be countless players who don’t even make the cut in years one or two.

This isn’t a big issue for the likes of Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel and Sammy Watkins — all guaranteed to go in the top-ten and be stars at the next level.

It’s the guys who declare knowing they’re likely to be mid-to-late round picks that we should be worried about.

Instead of trying to improve their stock on the field in college, they’re prepared to take their chances in training camp and on the practise field.

Here’s an example of what could go wrong….

You’re a young receiver who gets drafted by a team with a bevvy of veteran starters. You struggle to beat out the experienced incumbents in camp. You’re only a 6th round pick, so you’re on the roster bubble. And hey — we have this UDFA who excelled and plays a position of greater need.

Suddenly the guy who backed himself to make it as a late round pick is on the street looking for a job.

Simply being in the NFL is not a guarantee you will get the best possible opportunity to showcase your talent.

Are young players being told that brutal reality? Or are they being told “the quicker you get in the NFL, the quicker you can earn a second contract”?

Here’s what a player should be told — enter the league when YOU are ready. Because being physically and mentally prepared for the NFL is what will help you succeed. And success will eventually get you a second contract, whether it’s for the big bucks or not.

Every player is different. Some need extra time in college. Others can feel comfortable entering the league after a couple of years of college ball.

But turning pro when you’re not ready can kill your career before it even begins.

It’s concerning that this week the discussion has shifted towards allowing juniors to enter the Senior Bowl rather than addressing the bigger problem.

If you let juniors into the event, it’ll be like throwing petrol on a bonfire. Yet another thing to encourage young players to jump before they’re ready.

It’s all about education and information.

Spell out the facts and have NFL personnel talk to players as they go through college. Make it clear — you are not guaranteed that big second contract. Many of you won’t make the grade.

The fortunate ones who work their asses off will be rewarded.

We’re sending 100 players into the league this year and many have been sold an unrealistic dream.

It’s time to save the Senior Bowl — and in the process save a few careers too.


  1. Stuart

    The only position that makes sense at all would be RB because of the pounding and short life of their career anyway. By staying for their Sr. year they could get injured etc. Monte Ball comes to mind.
    Overall though I totally agree.

    Since we lost the NBA/Sonics I don’t pay attention to the NBA anymore but I do wish they had more rules like the NFL for professional eligibility. It’s embarrassing listening to most NBA players speak.

    • Bob

      I agree about RB’s, it’s a brutal and unforgiving position. Bell and Ball this last season were talked about having a lot of tread wear before making it to the NFL and look at a player like Lattimore it’s a tough spot to put these guys in at that position.

  2. Sam Jaffe

    There’s another solution: pay the college players. And do so at a pay scale that’s proportionate to their year in school. Making $50K as a senior vs. making $100K as an NFL rookie suddenly makes you want to spend that last year finishing your training. I know it’s never going to happen, but it would solve the problem.

    Another option would be requiring anyone who leaves school early to repay their three years of tuition. That would keep anyone who wasn’t guaranteed of being a top 100 pick from leaving early.

    • Rob Staton

      Good ideas here Sam.

    • rrsquid

      My idea has always to put their ‘pay’ into an escrow account that they get when they graduate. There should be a time limit, but I’m not sure what time would be appropriate.

      • jeff

        I disagree with paying college players just for playing, they are student athletes and most of us with college debt would kill to have the opportunities they get BUT….
        They should be allowed to do promotional work for companies that want to give them endorsements, they should be guaranteed 7 years of free education if they play out their eligibility or get injured and can’t play anymore, and if the school is selling/using their image they should receive compensation in an escrow account for the use of their image….

        • AlaskaHawk

          If the colleges and TV networks broadcast games for nothing then I would agree with the system of scholarships that colleges use. But college football is a business. And business is gooood!!!

          The college athletes take a risk of injury at every practice. They should get some cash for that. Since it is a business and they aren’t slaves.

        • Ben2

          I think we should look at college for some of the athletes as more akin to a vocational school. They’re training for a career in the nfl by playing collegiate football. I don’t know a whole lot about vocational schools, but I believe apprentices and journeymen get paid. I don’t want to feed into a “dumb jock” stereotype but I’m wondering how much most of these young guys view their college education as something they care about as opposed to something they just have to do to play ball? They should get paid and they should be able to return to these schools at a later date and finish their educations for free (I know that I was a much better more serious student when I returned to college at 25 than I was at 18,19, 20, etc. for a myriad of reasons)

          • williambryan

            Except for the fact that maybe, what, 3% of them will make it to the NFL? That’s a horrible job placement rate for a vocational school. I just want to see the players on the same level as the coaches. The coaches can leave whenever they want, players have many ludicrous rules governing there abilities to transfer. Coaches make millions, players make, scholarships… I think there has to be some kind of scale because Eastern Washington University has no chance to compare to Texas in revenue for example. If Texas, again for example, is going to pay there coach 5 million a year (on top of paying almost 5 million to buy him out of Louisville) and were reportedly willing to pay saban 10 million, and make well in excess of 100 million in revenue a year, why not pay a little more to the players? They could easily quadruple the amount allotted to each player without denting there profits. I would like to see a percentage of revenue spread equally amongst the players and in addition, players would be paid for anytime their likeness is used or jersey is sold, etc. With a set percentage it would put a quasi salary cap on the schools. Eastern still couldn’t compete with texas, but the rest of the top 25 could.

  3. Jon

    this seems to be accurate, and very sad, for those students who will never get a fair shake because they leave school for an unlikely dream.

  4. Nick

    In a strange parallel this is very similar to what happens on Wall Street. Every year hundreds of brokers work for peanuts in order to survive the cuts at the end of the year. Those that survive get rewarded in the 7-8 figure range. Those that don’t are left to the street

  5. dave crockett

    C’mon Rob. You’re better than this.

    If NFL teams placed a premium on polished, finished products you’d have a point. They don’t. Anonymous NFL scouts and the nauseatingly sanctimonious Bill Polian can get on TV and the internet and rail against evil agents all they want, but the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Underclassmen have dominated the draft for 20 years now. If history is any indication, this draft will have an extra heavy underclassmen aftertaste.

    If you are a draftable prospect you have no incentive to stay in school to get reps. Even if you improve your stock by a full round you essentially don’t get paid for it.

    For every scenario you can concoct about a 6th round pick that doesn’t make the roster, I can match it with an underclassman (e.g., Tharold Simon) who did and a senior (e.g., Chris Harper) who did not. What’s more, when Simon broke a bone in his foot he still got a paycheck which he would not have gotten at LSU.

    • Rob Staton

      We have never had a draft with close to 98 players declaring for the draft before, Dave. It’s very possible we’ll see a major increase in underclassmen being cut before they reach the end of their first contract.

      My fear — and I believe this is legit — is a decent percentage of these guys won’t even be drafted or will be late round picks. It’ll be higher than previous years because so many more guys have turned pro. And that within three or four years, when the new contracts get dished out, I think we’ll be shocked at the percentage of the 98 that actually made it work.

      This is about educating players to make informed decisions so they can have the best success in the NFL.

      And I’m sorry, but unless we’re writing off college football as a complete waste of time (it isn’t) there are a ton of guys who benefit from extra time on the field. As I noted, some are ready to go pro almost immediately. Others need time.

      Here’s an example for you. Von Miller received a third round grade by the draft committee as a junior. If he was entering the league now, he’d probably turn pro and chase the second contract with that mid round grade under his arm. Without all the noise about second contracts (and it’s not just Bill Polian mentioning this, be fair) that extra year at Texas A&M made him the #2 overall pick.

      There are various examples like this. Aaron Curry was given a third round grade, but turned himself into the #4 overall pick. Staying in school and improving your game can have a major benefit. And it can be a lot more beneficial than just an extra round higher.

      It’s also not just about improving your situation financially with that first deal as a rookie. If you enter the league as a more developed and mature player — very possible — you can put yourself in a better position to earn that lucrative second contract because you’re just a better football player. And many prospects DO improve with extra time in college.

      No incentive to get reps? Way too broad a statement to make. You cannot apply that to every single player in college. Not even close.

      And you’ve come up with an example there of Tharold Simon. Do we even know he’s going to be on a NFL roster this time next year? He’s basically been injured all season. It’s not a great example is it?

      • dave crockett

        My problem with this entire line of argument, Rob, is that it’s not always the agents who are selling the pipe dream. It’s often the “Go back to school crowd.”

        I’m not AGAINST going back to school, but it’s a complex equation with a lot of variables. I don’t buy these generalized proclamations that returning to college football by definition improves draft stock. Draft stock may decline for reasons that are ENTIRELY out of a player’s control. A change in scheme or position coach. Poor player development. (Ask Logan Thomas about how well he has been served by that staff at Tech.) And, heaven forbid, injury.

        At one time, staying in school to improve your stock from 5th round to 3rd round was a worthwhile bet. Now it’s really not. Tharold Simon is a PERFECT illustration of that point. We can agree — and Pete Carroll even said — Simon should have stayed in school. LSU is DB factory. Third round is probably a safe, even conservative assessment of his physical talent. And yet, Simon played the CBA absolutely perfectly. His logic is completely unassailable. His foot injury would have devastated his draft stock, a risk that would have been his entirely. You simply cannot argue the point. So, if the question is about whether he makes a roster next year, how on earth would his odds have increased sitting next to Les Miles? Just a year of rehab and practice with the Seahawks, without playing so much as a pre-season snap, his odds of making a team next year go way up.

        • Glor

          Look at how much $$$ luck lost by staying in school that last year, ditto for Barkley

          • Rob Staton

            Luck didn’t lose any money staying in school. He would’ve been the #1 pick under the current CBA whether he’d declared early or not.

            And for every Barkley, there’s a Von Miller.

            • JW

              Well, luck lost a years wages.

              My take on this is college football has many issues- many of them ethical questions and having to do with how universities want to exist as institutions. Most of them are much more fundamental than saving the Senior Bowl.

            • Glor

              Luck would have come out in the pre CBA year right? He lost probably 40 million

              • Rob Staton

                2011, the earliest Luck could declare, was the first year of the new CBA. Cam Newton went #1 overall that year instead and got a $22m contract. Sam Bradford, the #1 pick in 2010, got a $78m deal.

  6. Kenny Sloth

    Great article, Rob.

    • Kenny Sloth

      Hey, Check out Weston Richburg. Center from Colorado State. I posted about him before, but I think he could have great value as a fifth round pick. I know we have Unger and Lemeul, who has played very well in his time here, but this guy is big and technically sound. We could save some money on Unger in a year or two.

      Aaron Donald is probably on Seattle’s radar. He plays like a stout Bennett and is 288.

      I am disgusted that anyone ever mocked Cyril Richardson to us in the first round.

      Michael Sam could be a faller and potential gem at Leo, because he can’t cover well enough to play OLB. Call BS if he’s mocked to a 3-4 team.

  7. Stuart

    College can easily be the best time in your life. Add in the fact that you are on the University football team and likely a star to some degree, everyday is a great day. Money cannot buy happiness. College girls….You are only young once.

    A side note is about 10 years ago I did business with a former NFL player. I don’t know how many years he played in the league. Prior to our meeting I had never heard of him. He played for the NY Jets during the early 1970’s is all I know because he told me.

    It was my job to verify his income. The guy was receiving a pension from the NFL that paid him about $150K a year, and when he died, his son would get half that amount ($75K) until he died.

    When players retire, they are set for life even if they blow all the money because of this pension the NFL has set up. I don’t know how long of a career you have to have as a player to qualify but I am sure there is some type of minimum qualification.

    I just wanted to add this to the conversation.

    • jeff

      You have to survive 4 years in the NFL to get to their pension and you don’t get that money till you are 55 I believe and most don’t get that much.

  8. kevin mullen

    The Senior Bowl is suppose to be the more “polished product” display of athletes, so unless Goddell decides to make it “no underclassmen” draft, this game is for only fringe and mid to late round guys.

    I like the purpose behind it, but unless there’s an equal Junior Bowl, or maybe a “Draft Bowl” where anyone that’s declared can participate, I just see it as a glorified Pro-Bowl for college athletes without the best players involved.

    The injury factor is enough to scare these kids away, see Aaron Colvin.

  9. AlaskaHawk

    They should change the name to something zippy and market it as your last chance to see this seasons college players. Senior bowl just sounds like something from the 1950s.

  10. Attyla the Hawk

    If we are really worried about this, then I’d suggest the following:

    1. Increase practice squads by 5 or 10 players.
    2. Add an 8th round in the draft.
    3. Add some form of team protection for a limited number of those first year PS players. Maybe call them Development Squad player designations. Something where the team can get some kind of compensation if another team signs them.

    This keeps these players in the league and learning their craft. I’d even wager they’d do so at an accelerated rate than if they stay in school. There are no NCAA amateur restrictions on how much time they can devote to football. They get pro coaching. They are in a pro environment. In all, it’s much more beneficial.

    There are any number of ways to provide a safety net for players like this that don’t bureaucratically deny opportunity for college players for no other reason than to financially benefit everyone else. College is not for everyone, and for many football players, it’s just a formality forced on them for really no legitimate reason.

    I would also question the conventional ‘evil agent agenda’ argument. It’s frequently floated out there and perpetuated by the NFL, because agents are tough competitors for profit.

    Why I question it, is I fail to find the motive to lure prospects from college in this manner. The NFL rookie pay scale pretty much limits or even negates the value of even having an agent upon leaving college. There is no negotiating this deal. There is no financial incentive for agents or players to enter in an agreement if the player realistically doesn’t have a shot in the NFL.

    There is no mistaking, the rookie pay scale is RUINOUS to players. Veterans and rookies alike. It was absolutely awful for the players, more harmful than dropping their overall percentage of revenues. It will no doubt cost a full NFL season and maybe even two. The next CBA will either not have a rookie pay scale or it will be a one year cap.

    The rookie cap was billed and sold by the NFL to ‘save’ clubs from draft failures and to redistribute salary from rookies to veterans. Players in the league liked this idea. But this hasn’t happened at all. In fact, predictably just the opposite has happened. Veterans are cut routinely in favor of rookie minimum players. The players were bamboozled in the worst way. There is no hope that the NFL can manage to keep this cap in place.

    By the time the next CBA is negotiated, the NFL will be entirely stocked with players whom will all similarly share the intense hatred of the current deal. The entire player pool will be dedicated to going to the mattress to kill the cap. There won’t be a chance to appeal to veteran players to suppress compensation for players not in the league. They will all see the cap for what it is. Player compensation killer and veteran pay killer.

    It will be a rookie deal with one year. Allow teams to let busts walk at no financial risk. But year two will be a UFA situation with a right of first refusal for teams. The NFL has essentially guaranteed this with the deal they’ve pulled over the players’ eyes in 2011.

    This rookie deal guaranteed players will leave college at their first opportunity. This was done by the NFL themselves. Not agents.

    • dave crockett

      Well said Attyla.

    • AlaskaHawk

      Very interesting. Hope your right about players next negotiation over rookie salaries. Like your idea about adding more players to the practice squad.

  11. Lewis

    Other industries pay based on experience. I wonder if it would be possible to have a modest increase in base salary for rookies who played 4 years in college.

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