Derwin James, a safety at Florida State, is one of the best players in college football. So good, in fact, that he is a projected to be among the top 20 players in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Here is what that means:
One draft projection has James as the No. 16 pick overall. Last season’s No. 16 pick, Marlon Humphrey of Alabama, signed a fully-guaranteed $11.8 million contract with a $6.8 million signing bonus. That is enough money to change the future of a family for generations to come.
But to get the money, you have to be physically able to do what is required to play professional football on draft day. To be injured on draft day is to lose millions in guaranteed money.
So when James recently made the announcement that he would not play in Florida State’s Independence Bowl game with Southern Miss on Dec. 27, I had absolutely no problem with it.
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Yes, there is something to be said for starting what you finish. It has been a difficult season for Florida State (6-6) and the players on that team would like a better final paragraph when the story is written about the 2017.
But here a dose of the real world of big-time college football: Coach Jimbo Fisher has already left Tallahassee for the largest contract (10 years, $75 million) in the history of college football from Texas A&M. Good for him. But if the head coach can leave the team early to pursue his dreams, the Derwin Jameses of the world should do the best thing for them and their families.
James has a history of injury during his time at Florida State, missing most of the 2016 season with torn cartilage in his knee.
And as much as I like the folks in Shreveport—home of my good friend Tim Brando—the risk for James simply isn’t worth it. So you do what James did. You make the right decision and tell everybody—teammates, fans, coaches—how much you appreciate what they did for you. Then you move into the next phase of your life.
Now some fans will get up in arms about this, saying that players owe something to the team that trained them to be in a position to be drafted. And 10 years ago I might have felt the same way. I would have said play the game knowing it will be the last with your teammates.
But if a player is a lock to be a first-round pick and the game in question doesn’t have championship implications, then his teammates will understand, knowing they would do the same if the positions were reversed.
Now most players need the bowl game to get one more good impression on tape for the NFL scouts. Derwin James does not. Leonard Fournette (LSU) did not. Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) did not.
When head coaches are making $7 million a year and the players (who can’t be paid) are risking everything—EVERYTHING-- on every snap of the ball, then it falls upon the players and their families to make smart decisions and to take the long view.
Having said all that, decisions to skip bowl games will be few and far between. They will be reserved, for the most part, for the elite player with nothing left to prove by one more college game.
At least that’s my hope. If a college player ever skips a playoff game, then come back to me and we’ll visit on this subject again.