The Pacific Pro (Pac-Pro) league (to debut in 2020) wants Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence – the projected #1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL draft – to be its Joe Namath; the University of Alabama star left school early to join the New York Jets and be the face of the start-up AFL. While NFL rules prohibit players from entering the draft until 3 years after from H.S. graduation, Pac-Pro league founder Don Yee said his league “would like to make [the CFP National Championship MPV] an employment offer [and] professionalize him right away”; to date, elite underclassman have lacked an alternative to the NCAA. Yee (Tom Brady’s agent) insinuated that Adidas (a founding sponsor of the Pac-Pro league) would also “make [Lawrence] an endorsement proposal” if the freshman were to turn pro after next season. Lawrence has yet to acknowledge the opportunity.
Howie Long-Short: Trevor Lawrence is going to have the opportunity to make significantly more money than Joe Namath did as a professional, so while his addition to the Pac-Pro league might provide a comparable boost to the league’s legitimacy, Lawrence faces a far more complex decision. Eric Winston played 12 years in the NFL and has served as the NFLPA President since 2014. I reached out to Eric to gain perspective on the decision Lawrence will face after next season, to learn of any risks associated with foregoing a collegiate football career and to find out how the NFL would view a prospect that opted to take the Pac-Pro route.
Yee’s pitch to Lawrence sounds attractive. Is there a case to be made for a projected Top-10 selection to pass on a payday, further risk injury (more demanding schedule) and forego the coaching meant to prepare players for the NFL – to play college football?
Eric: I always tell guys, you’re a business – you should be making decisions in the long-term interests of your business. So, how much money are we talking about here? If the Pac-Pro league is offering Trevor [or another top prospect] $10 million for the 2020 season, well that’s a different conversation than if they’re offering $50,000 and the ability for him to market his own likeness. As funny as it may sound, a college education still matters to a lot of guys – more so than people realize. Every player is going to become a retired athlete before the end of their 30s, so, there is value in a degree.
Top players like Trevor also need to consider if the preparation they’re getting at programs like Clemson, Michigan, Alabama and Miami (Eric’s alma mater) is better than what they would get in a subpar league relative to the NCAA. It’s not helping a player’s long-term potential if they come into the NFL under-developed. If you’re thinking of yourself as a business, you can’t be thinking about where you can maximize your money next year – you need to be thinking about how you can maximize your money for the next 20 years.
You referenced preparation, but what specifically would a player who bypasses college football for the Pac-Pro league be missing out on?
Eric: You can assume that the coaches in a start-up league aren’t going to be as accomplished as coaches leading P5 programs. It’s safe to say that the medical personnel won’t be as talented. The strength and conditioning programs and prehab regimens aren’t going to be as advanced as what a player would find in the NCAA; and you’re not going to find many NFL teams with better facilities than what the elite college programs have.
If Lawrence were to become the Pac-Pro’s version of Joe Namath, should he be concerned about how NFL teams would view his decision to play against lesser competition?
Eric: Isn’t that the argument that teams were making three years ago when guys started skipping bowl games – that they wanted players who would compete? Then guys like Fournette and McCaffrey called their bluff and they’re still being taken in the top 10. The majority of NFL teams are going to field the absolute most competitive team that they can. Let’s say Trevor plays next year and then decides to sit out his junior season [and not play at all]. Is there any doubt he would still be among the top overall selections in 2021? Sure, he’ll face questions about why he sat out the season, but if an NFL team thinks that he can make them better, they’re going to pick him.
Unless Adidas is willing to write a check that Lawrence can’t refuse, expect him to suit up for the Tigers the next 2 seasons. Playing for Dabo should keep the 6’5 QB on track to become the top overall pick in 2021, when he would be in line to sign a rookie contract with a total value close to $40 million.
Fan Marino: Looking strictly at the Pac-Pro league from a business standpoint, the model is fascinating. All 4 of the league’s teams will be in Southern California – eliminating costly travel expenses, player salaries are manageable (avg. $50K vs. $250K/3 years in AAF) and unlike the AAF and XFL, they’re not pulling players from the NFL scrap heap.
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