Poor Urban Meyer. This NFL stuff is just not coming naturally to him.
Another week, another awkward moment. When will it end?
It wasn't long ago that he risked further alienating a long-toxic locker room by hiring a strength coach who was ousted from Iowa for being racist and treating student-athletes in a condemnable manner -- and doing so just before players and agents were going to start deciding where their best free-agent landing spots would be. Like that was just somehow going to slide.
College campus, this is not. Powerless labor, they are not.
Then, his first free-agent foray complete, Urban did some truth tellin' on the NFL process. Didn't seem to like it. Wasn't his thing. … Even though he thoroughly utilized it, putting the franchise tag on a tackle who might otherwise be making closer to $10 million a year rather than $15 million (Cam Robinson), adding corner Shaquill Griffin on a top-of-the-2021-market deal from Seattle, grabbing safety Rayshawn Jenkins on a four-year deal, adding Carlos Hyde for depth at running back and bringing in veteran receiver Marvin Jones from Detroit for a nice chunk of change as well. Oh, and Jacksonville took a flier on flyer Phillip Dorsett and corner Sidney Jones, brought in defensive line depth from Pittsburgh in Tyson Alualu and kept some of its free agents, like tight end James O'Shaughnessy, too.
But don't get it twisted -- even though the Jaguars utilized this tool and went about throwing some money at their roster problems, and chipping into their boundless cap space, well, it wasn't without some stomach pains. Urban Meyer, off his stints in Columbus and Gainesville and Provo, took no joy in this whatsoever. Actually, it seemed to nauseate him, he'd have you know, and he spent owner Shad Khan's money, apparently, while holding his nose (again, he's used to getting his players for free, after all).
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In case you missed it, here's what the coach -- now lord of all things football related in Jacksonville -- had to say about the negotiating process after taking part robustly in it:
"That was awful. I don't agree with it, but no one asked my opinion. I guess in the old days you could bring them in and meet them, have dinner with them. You find out the football intellect, find out their character. The thing you don't (want to do), I found out, is call someone who has skin in the game, because they're going to not quite -- I don't see honest as an appropriate (term). …
"That was awful, and I don't believe it should be that way. Not when you're making organizational decisions. I'm not sure how that rule came about, but to me that's not good business."
Oh my. So much to unpack here.
First off, in the NFL, at the very start of free agency, most deals are done without face-to-face visits. It's a rush to get the best guy at close to the best price. Welcome to free markets, Urban. Been around awhile, not going anywhere. Players, through their years of production -- literally risking their health and safety Sunday after Sunday -- earned the right to pick their team (except when you slap that franchise tag on them to restrict their trade, which the Jags had no problems with). Sorry it is often sight unseen, but the player doesn't need to take visits if he doesn't want to, and we are still deep in a pandemic, even if Florida is seemingly a conscientious objector.
So yeah, you gotta pay if you wanna play up here. Especially if you are a small-market team without any recent history of sustained success. And it's great that you totally crushed it in college, recruiting and all, but as you see this is different ballpark and these players are old enough to have watched Chip Kelly and others crash and burn to know this gamble on you is far from a guarantee to produce real results. And that strength coach stunt did you no favors (the fact that parting ways with him ultimately required two press releases was not particularly smooth, either).
Then there is the matter of having to research and background check these players on your own. Yup. These teams are all worth well over a billion dollars for a reason, there is no shortage of resources and NFL security is a real thing. And, you're absolutely correct -- people will feed you bad info. Agents have their own fiduciary interests to their clients, other teams have their own purposes to serve and people will try to sway you and take advantage of you in the free agent market.
But recruiting kids barely out of middle school is totally clean. Reputable, even. One could argue that it's God's work.
And, don't any of you ever get the wrong idea about what goes on when NFL teams are trying to discern as much as possible about college prospects. I can promise you that no highly successful college coach would be anything but forthcoming about all of the major criminal acts or character flaws or red flags going on with a particular player -- or running rampant across a particular college locker room in, say, Florida -- when those NFL teams are preparing for the draft. Just would never happen. Even with that coach knowing he needs to recruit the next batch of teenagers by being able to proclaim how many 21 and 22 years olds he just had selected in the first round of the NFL draft. And no coach would play word games about his future and where he would or would not coach again. Every head coach would be very transparent and candid about the misgivings of not just his players, but also coaches on his staff.
Come on, man. Spare us any righteous indignation.
If Urban Meyer, who had made it known for a few years how interested he was in trying this whole pro coaching thing, was truly this naïve and taken aback by how business is done in the NFL, then shame on him. Let's get real: As someone who himself has been involved in numerous multi-million dollar contracts, this is beyond belief.
Yes, Urban, it can get a little tough on these streets, and be careful who you trust. Free agency is not for the faint of heart. The top talent won't be throwing themselves at you just to come to your school. No power here is absolute and when you take over an entire franchise as you did, the buck will always stop with you.
But fear not, long-suffering Jags fans. Because your new football czar took it all in, absorbed his first foray into paid players and salary caps and hard roster limits. And while life with a collective bargaining agreement might not be all that it's cracked up to be from that side of the table, Meyer is now better for it.
"It was a learning experience," Meyer said last week after securing 11 players to contracts. "And I feel great about it."
He'll grow and adapt to this pro thing … or be back in the college game in a few years. He'll rise above; or he won't. Though mere weeks into Meyer's first full NFL offseason, it's fair to wonder how much this looks and sounds like movies we've seen and heard before, that didn't end the way the main character would have hoped.