Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In the NFL defenders are pulling down the big bucks

In youth leagues the best athletes are usually quarterbacks or running backs in football; point guards or scorers in basketball; shortstops or pitchers in baseball. Somewhere along the way, the burgeoning athlete normally emerges more prominently in one sport than another and that shapes the path of the student athlete.

Oftentimes student athletes who were dominant at one position adopt new positions at higher levels of competition. Bart Scott was a successful high school running back while Dawan Landry was an accomplished quarterback. Chris McAlister was Conference Player of the Year and California MVP as Pasadena High School’s quarterback.

But somewhere along the line a coach might notice something about a student athlete that possibly suggests that their skill sets are better suited for another position at the next level and those positions are encouraged in order to benefit the team and provide a springboard for the athlete’s future.

Superior athletes are encouraged to play quarterback and pitcher and point guard at lower levels of competition because it places them at the center of attention and the attention helps catapult them to more favorable positions at higher levels. It helps to pave the way to greater success.

As the student athletes continue down their respective athletic career paths, success is measured differently. First there are scholarships at both the high school and collegiate level. Perhaps there are some swept under the carpet perks that come along in a clandestine way at the collegiate level (see Reggie Bush).

And then there are the prospects of playing sports professionally.

There the benefits escalate from a free ride on tuition to the possibility of millions of dollars. And when money enters the picture that too could sway what positions athletes will gravitate too.

Trevor Pryce prior to his first mini-camp session with the Ravens in 2006 discussed his collegiate career. Pryce played both linebacker and defensive end at Michigan and Clemson. Pryce recalled a time when a reporter asked which position he would prefer to play in the NFL.

“Which pays more?” Pryce quickly answered.

If you look at the pay scales in the NFL, three of the top four paying positions are on the defensive side of the football, the only exception is the high profile position of quarterback.

So if an athlete isn’t capable of throwing the ball 60 yards on a rope, might the money on defense allure them and influence their athletic career path?

Consider the following franchise tag numbers:

Quarterback $10.730 million
Cornerback $ 9.465 million
Defensive End $ 8.879 million
Linebackers $ 8.065 million
Wide Receiver $ 7.848 million
Offensive linemen $ 7.455 million
Running backs $ 6.638 million
Tight Ends $ 4.522 million
Safeties $ 4.396 million

The biggest, fastest and strongest athletes if motivated by money and career longevity will look to play defense. We all know about the 3 year career average of running backs. The better linemen will prefer to defend unless of course you are a behemoth along the lines of Jonathan Ogden. If an athlete is 6’4” with speed, might he be more inclined to pursue linebacker or tight end? Does the 6’1” speedster opt for cornerback or wide receiver?

Dollars are being thrown at defenders and the better athletes are chasing it and why shouldn't they? They are the hired guns brought on to thwart a league that continually refines the rules to assist the offense and enable higher scoring. The slanted rules don’t require offenses to employ the best athletes yet they inspire the NFL’s general managers to find them on defense and pay them accordingly. And that won’t change any time soon.

Don’t think for a second that footballers with professional aspirations haven’t taken notice.

Photo by Sabina Moran