The Sad Reality of Finality

Time at the pinnacle of this game is fleeting and harsh

by Brandon Rush | @BrandonRush |

The average length of an NFL players career is 3.3 years. 52 games. It goes as quickly as it comes, and for some, being told no is just not something any player of that caliber is ready to hear, and as hard as it is to get to the top level of the game, getting back in is even more difficult.

This weekend may have been the final nail in the coffin for a handful of careers as the NFL held its first ever Veterans Combine in Arizona in advance of the NFL Owners Meetings. Over 100 players were invited to showcase their talents for all 32 teams coaches and general managers with varying results, and it seems as if the NFL set the invitees up to fail.

Most of the participants are well known having been in the league before ranging from the likes of Brady Quinn, Felix Jones, Adam Carriker, and Mikel Leshoure, but a majority of the others invited were back end of the roster guys who may not have volumes of NFL film available. The results of the workouts were less than stellar and from the looks of it, it was pretty sloppily executed.

Hand timed 40 yard dashes, workouts that resemble tryouts for semi-pro teams, players paying their own way to Arizona to the Veterans Combine, but perhaps the most insulting tidbit was the fact participants had to pay $400 just to enter.

Four. Hundred. Dollars.

The NFL couldn’t even spring for decent workout attire for the guys hoping for one last crack at glory?

Even more insulting is that there was no physical or medical exams performed and no interviews were conducted with the invitees. Considering injuries are what bounced a majority of these players out of the NFL, there was no in depth homework done by the league or its teams to see how each player has or has not recovered.

The weekend basically comprised of a workout to confirm what was on game tape that is at best seven months old. Pay $400 to run, lift, jump, and go thru drills, but not get a chance to sell yourself to your potential employer.

Former Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Matt Birk, now the NFL’s director of Football Development, told the NFL Network “This has been an idea that has been bounced around for a few years. We wanted to put on a football relevant event, something for the players was useful. For a lot of them it is their last chance at chasing and fulfilling their dream. You don’t get unlimited chances, a lot of these guys have been out of the league for a while.”

Among the numbers that impressed, Adam Carriker bench pressed 225 pounds forty times, three more than this years NFL Combine leader Ereck Flowers who pounded out 37 reps in Indianapolis last month. Carricker, the former All-Big 12 defensive end at Nebraska, played 65 games in the NFL with St. Louis and Washington before a devastating knee injury ended his 2012 season. At 30 Carriker still believes he can play at an NFL caliber.

“I love football, it’s very simple for me,” he told NFL Media. “I just want to get some teams to bring me in one on one.”

Medically, he says he’s been cleared by Dr. James Andrews. Physically, he says he’s never felt better and is volunteering to do the bench press and shuttle drills even though they aren’t part of his position’s regiment.

“I just needed an opportunity and I got it, that’s all I needed,” he said. “I was out of sight out of mind, that’s why this is great for me, I can remind teams ‘Hey, I’m still alive. I can still play this game.”

Reports had quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Tyler Wilson having the most impressive days on the field.

On the other side however is former Louisville Cardinal and Oakland Raiders and Chicago Bears running back Micheal Bush who played 89 NFL games over 6 seasons. Bush reportedly ran a 4.91 second forty yard dash. Bush, not widely known for breakaway speed, seemed crushed at the number he posted.

“You gotta be shitting me. 4.91? There you go, there goes my career.”

While bigger names garnered most of the attention, former West Texas A&M wide receiver Nathan Slaughter was the first and thus far the only player to land a deal signing with the Arizona Cardinals. The diminutive speedster who posted the fastest time (4.33) at the Veterans Combine had spent time in camp with the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars and in January had signed to play with the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League.

According to National Football Post’s Aaron Wilson had been on the short list of invitees for upwards of 17 NFL teams last season, including the Cardinals.

In the end, more players are going to have to end up getting signed to make the Veteran Combine “a thing” in the future. Better yet, why not invite them to the real combine in February. The NFL is a competition, and I’ve longed for more one on one competition at the combine, so why not kill two birds with one stone?

Odds are, teams knew everything they needed to about the players invited, but showed up out of obligation. The players that are going to be signed were already going to be invited to camp. If a player who participated in this weekends “combine” start a single game in the NFL the rest of their careers, they will be in uncharted territory.

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