The Difference In The End

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

There were several surprising retirement announcements in the last few days. First, the San Francisco 49ers Patrick Willis followed by Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker, former Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds. Common factor, all under the age of 31 and could still command top dollar. It came as a surprise but it shouldn’t be, especially in the age of CTE.

Patrick Willis could, and probably will, be considered for induction into the pro football hall of fame. He’s been that good. In fact he’s been the cornerstone of the 49ers for the eight years that he’s been in San Francisco. Through thick and thin, he’s been the constant.

Patrick Willis

Willis said goodbye to the 49ers and the NFL on Tuesday in a surprise to just about everybody. Reason, his feet and not being able to play at a high level. Later in the day came news that Jake Locker was walking away from the game, only four years removed from being a top 10 pick in the NFL Draft. Locker, like Willis, had been suffering from constant injuries. Unlike Willis though, Locker played 30 games and never lived up to the franchise quarterback tag that people branded on him when he was drafted.

Finnegan and Worilds are two more players who could have commanded top dollar on the free agent market but chose instead to walk away. Finnegan after a nine year career and Worilds at the age of 27. Worilds reason is a bit more interesting, he wants to devote more time to his religion (he is a Jehovah’s Witness). Finnegan did leave us with a great / not-so-great moment, when he and Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson got into a fight during a game.

While each player has their own reason for walking away from a high profile, lucrative career you have to believe that the reports about CTE had to play a part in their decision. What is all the money and glory for if you can’t remember what you did and enjoy your life after football?

Other players have retired at a young age such as former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. He wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post last year as to why he left the game at the age of 26. He is currently pursuing a screenwriting career in Southern California.

Could this be a new trend in the game? Players leaving after five, six, seven years? Cashing out while they are up? Convincing themselves that to go any longer would cost more than it’s worth? Time will tell but it is a distinct possibility.

College Football Free Agency

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Vernon Adams. It’s ok if you have never heard of him but he is the one causing a major ruckus on the college football landscape. Not because of what he has done the past three seasons at Eastern Washington but because he’s leaving there to play his final season at Oregon.

Vernon Adams

Adams is a 22 year old from Pasadena, CA. He started at quarterback for three years at Eastern Washington but since he is graduating in May he is taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows him to transfer without having to sit out a year. While Eastern Washington is letting him go they are making it very clear that they do not like the rule. They don’t like it so much that they are barring Adams from using the football facility or working out with his former teammates while he finishes up his degree.

Other coaches at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level are not happy with what this could mean for the future.  Montana State coach Rob Ash is among those speaking out against the rule because it makes the FCS seem like a developmental league. The fear is that this could start a trend where fifth year FCS players leave for the big schools like Oregon or a Michigan who get to reap the rewards of a veteran collegiate player.

Adams on the move

It’s not just the FCS that has to worry. Ohio State head coach expressed his unhappiness with certain members of the media trying to entice Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller to transfer. Nor is transferring a guaranteeing you a starting spot. Just ask Jake Coker who transferred from Florida State to Alabama this past summer.

Transfers are nothing new to collegiate athletics. Players have been doing it for years and it mostly goes unnoticed. When it comes to quarterbacks though, it tends to get a lot attention. Super Bowl winning quarterback Russell Wilson left North Carolina State for Wisconsin and promptly led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl. While Wilson’s case was unique (he was essentially told by the NC State coaching staff that future pro Mike Glennon was going to play over him) it now seems that everyone is looking for an experienced QB to step in and lead the team to the promised land. With all of the pressure put on coaches nowadays can you blame them for looking for an experienced QB to step in?

Players always have their reasons for transferring. It’s not fair to Eastern Washington that Adams is transferring but neither would be holding him back because you don’t want him to leave. In the business world there are ‘non competes’ and there is a similar thing in college football too where a coach will put restrictions on where a player can transfer. Eastern Washington could have done this since they play Oregon the first week of the season but it would have been a bad PR move.

Is Adams setting a trend for FCS players? Probably not because too many things have to fall into place for something like this to happen. Are you going to see more situations like this? Sure but it’s no sure fire way to win championships. Remember, Russell Wilson may have led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl but they ended up losing to Oregon.