The year was 2009 and the Arizona Cardinals locker room had mostly cleared out. Matt Leinart was just about to leave when he was asked if a final question could be asked. He smiled. Maybe, Leinart said.
In 2009, in that nearly empty locker room, Leinart was asked about regrets. He'd had the opportunity to come out of USC as a junior and would have almost assuredly been the No. 1 overall draft choice. He stayed at USC and was drafted 10th by Arizona the following year. The drop cost him millions.
When asked if he regretted the decision, Leinart did not hesitate. None, he said. Not a one. But then he added something interesting that went something like this: You are told a number of things by NFL teams about where you'd be drafted and many times those teams are wrong.
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Leinart was being generous. The truth is that some teams obfuscate, obstruct, guess, lie, B.S., and cajole when it comes to telling picks -- officially or unofficially -- when they believe that player will be drafted. Teams have agendas they don't want to disclose to potential draftees.
Here we are a few years later, and another USC quarterback has failed to learn a valuable lesson from his fellow Trojan. If you want to play football for a living and you're ready, don't wait. Leave school. Just go.
While this draft was not talent-heavy, it contained a great lesson. This draft ended once and for all the argument about staying for one more year of school -- proven by Matt Barkley.
Barkley didn't just drop. He fell off a cliff only to be hit in the head by an Acme anvil. Like many others, Barkley was told if he stayed in school, he still would be a high first-round pick. He went in the fourth.
Had Barkley declared after his junior season, he likely would have been a top-five pick. A shoulder injury and slump during his senior season destroyed his stock.
The NFL's rookie wage scale dictates that Barkley will earn approximately a four-year contract worth about $2.5 million for its duration, with a $500,000 signing bonus. A top-10 pick, which he would have been in the 2012 draft, earns about $10 million guaranteed. At least.
The difference in prestige inside an NFL locker room also is dramatically different for a fourth-round pick vs. a first-rounder. While many outsiders don't understand it, veterans know a first-rounder likely will be around a great deal longer than a mid- or lower-round pick because more is invested in the first-round choice. There is the usual rookie hazing and silliness, but even then veterans respect a first-rounder more than a guy picked in fourth round or lower because they have to.
So, Barkley joins the Eagles with much less swagger as a fourth-rounder than he would have had after the 2012 draft -- had he made himself available.
Others may have failed Barkley, but nobody played a bigger part than Barkley. A football player should never test chance. Next to stand-up fighting, nothing is more violent than football, even for quarterbacks. The NFL, perhaps more than any other sports league, also makes it ridiculously easy to complete his college degree. They practically provide entire classrooms for players, which makes staying in school unnecessary.
NFL scouts and general managers can say there are numerous examples when staying in school improved someone's draft stock, but the NFL has a vested interest in keeping indentured servants, er, players in school as long as possible. College players are cattle and the longer the cattle graze the better it is for the farmer. Moooooo.
Colleges are the same. Barkley staying in school helped no one but the school. USC sold more Barkley jerseys and tickets -- and TV ratings improve with him at quarterback.
Soon, players finally will realize that staying for a senior season is self-destructive. Maybe as early as next year. Barkley may be the case that causes players to finally see the truth.
If you're ready for the NFL and you stay in school for that second year, you stand to lose so much.