By Paul Katsiaounis
Everyone knows the NFL scouting combine, the event where college players show their skills for NFL coaches every February in Indianapolis. Players are shown on TV lifting weights, running, throwing and catching balls in the weeks before the main event. There’s a huge hullabaloo concerning who’s going to be the next best player, who’s going to get picked in the early rounds, and who the best performers were. There’s also a lot of talk in the years after about who the ‘draft busts’, or players who couldn’t perform as well as hoped to in the league. What happens to them? Where do they go? Well, some ride the bench, some get injured, and many are cut. Recently, the NFL decided to give these guys a second shot at glory, and the NFL Veteran Combine was born.
What is the NFL Veteran Combine? No, it’s not a test to see how ready soldiers are for the NFL. It’s for the overlooked, the unwanted, and the injured. For the very first time in history, last weekend in Arizona free agents went to show their abilities for an array of professional coaches. Most of the players in the Vet Combine aren’t particularly old- they’re predominantly players who were cut from their respective teams for one reason or another. Having potentially career-ending injuries is a common theme among many prospects. Some didn’t perform well enough in their years, or didn’t even have the opportunity to get on the field at all. Some, like 2013 SEC defensive player and the first openly gay player to be drafted, Michael Sam, never made the final 53 man roster.
Some of these guys were standout superstar players. Felix Jones was part of one of the deadliest college backfields in the nation during his days at Arkansas. He was drafted 22nd overall by the Dallas Cowboys in 2008. After over 2700 rushing yards in his career in Texas, the Cowboys wouldn’t resign him for 2012. He played a little for the Steelers in 2013 and was working out with the Giants in late 2014. However, he hadn’t found luck in being resigned. This is where the Vet Combine comes into play perfectly.
However, most of the hopefuls didn’t do as well as expected. Felix, for example, ran a 4.79- a time not uncommon among linemen nowadays, and much worse than his 4.47 time at the 2008 traditional combine. Michael Sam couldn’t break 5 seconds. Michael Bush, who wasn’t ever known to be too speedy, ran a 4.96 his first attempt. “You gotta be ****ing kidding me. There goes my career!” was his reaction. On the other hand, not everybody performed poorly. Lineman Adam Carriker performed 40 reps on the bench press, a feat which was only been beaten at the traditional combine by 14 men since 1999. Despite him performing well, the sad reality is that these men aren’t going to suddenly become starters overnight. “There may be a few back-end-of-the-roster training-camp players,” said one of the GMs there. “…But that’s it.”
Sadly, most won’t get to see the field. The combine gives a false sense of optimism and a facade that shrouds the reality that there isn’t a future for most of these guys. The NFL doesn’t seem to have these players as huge priorities. Each participant at the combine had to pay their way there- airfare, hotel, food- and a hearty 400 dollar fee to participate. That’s quite an amount for these men to pay, as the majority have been unemployed for the last years. You might think, ‘oh, these men are all millionaires, they’ll be okay’. However, that status doesn’t last for long. A crazy 78% of all NFL players are bankrupt within 2 years of quitting the league. Unfortunately, this new combine gives nothing but false hope and the mirage of potential success.