Last week, it was Leonard Fournette announcing he was sitting out LSU’s bowl game to get ready for the NFL Draft. On Monday, it was Stanford star Christian McCaffrey tweeting that he too was skipping his bowl game to prep for the NFL.
It’s worth noting that both Heisman hopefuls were injured at some point in 2016. It’s also worth noting that one of the star players of the 2015 season, Notre Dame standout linebacker Jaylon Smith, suffered a serious injury in his bowl game that knocked him out of the first round of the draft.
Players have always heard about the inherent risk of injury de-railing NFL careers in a sport where there’s already a short shelf-life (Google the name Melvin Bratton), but with the seasons getting longer and there being more open discussion about pay-for-play, it’s become more acceptable for players to make a decision that might’ve been cast as selfish in the past. This issue is a hot one now, especially in the age of social media where everyone now has an open mic.
(Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports)
Keep in mind that no one from inside the LSU program has any issues with Fournette. I know the Tigers coaching staff has raved about his leadership and toughness. Still, when word got out that he was skipping the Citrus Bowl, it prompted some discussion, which no doubt is escalating now that McCaffrey is doing the same in regards to the Sun Bowl. But he too is apparently receiving support in the locker room:
The whole team supports @CMccaffrey5 in everything and anything. Hes been a leader to this team through the easy times and tough times.
The Fournette/McCaffrey story also tugs at the hypocrisy at play especially at this time of the year.
About 10 minutes after I tweeted out the McCaffrey news, I received the following text message from a Power 5 coach:
“If some coaches can skip bowls to get ready for their next job, how can anyone fault Fournette or McCaffrey?”
Obviously, those coaches also don’t have to worry about career-altering injury in a bowl game. I spoke to a scouting director for an NFL team Monday morning who said teams will judge players on a case-by-case basis depending on what they learn about these players character-wise but added he personally wouldn’t hold anything against either guy for skipping the bowl game, although he suspected some ‘old-school guys’ in the NFL might.
(Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports)
USA TODAY Sports/Kelley L Cox
“Put yourself in their shoes, an injury could change the course of the rest of their lives,” the veteran NFL personnel man said. “We’re not talking about a left guard here. We’re talking about a skill (position) player who is a huge target. That’s the reality of it.
“Look at what these coaches are making now. Those guys are making $5 or $6 million a year and they may pressure these kids to play? Look at what these coaches and ADs are doing. It’s OK for them to leave, but it’s not OK for players to think about their futures? For coaches to (be critical), that’s incredibly selfish. Hold on a second here, guy. You pressure these kids to play, and then one of them (suffers a career-altering injury) and it’s, ‘I love you, and you’re a great teammate. Sorry about that.’ And it’s all for some bowl game who no one cares about? That’s a joke. I’m looking at it practically. If it was your son, what are you gonna say? It makes sense.”
I suspect the perception wouldn’t be the same if these players were opting to sit out games related to the College Football Playoff, which further advances the notion that the CFP has unintentionally de-valued other bowl games.
Either way, I’d expect a lot more players in the future to follow Fournette and McCaffrey’s lead.