Jacob Bell doesn't hate football. He doesn't want to discourage players who love the game from playing it. But Bell, who walked away from the game last week healthy and able to play at 31, eschewing a job on the Cincinnati Bengals offensive line after starting 100 NFL games in Tennessee and St. Louis, wants players to know the risks.
"My big goal is to help educate players,'' Bell told me this weekend. "Information about head trauma and concussions from all of the studies that have been done isn't readily available, and I hope I can provide some kind of service to help players who have questions about the health risks of the game.''
Bell hopes to push for rookies entering the league to be given information on concussion awareness at the annual NFL Rookie Symposium, and he'd like to see a baseline brain scan taken of every player before entering the league. He wants the findings of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is studying the brains of former athletes in contact sports, to be more readily available to players.
Some truth in advertising the Bell retirement: He's hoping to raise the dialogue about the risks of head trauma and overall player safety for current and former players. But Bell was helped along by his contractual situation. Bell was due to make $6 million last season and $6 million this season under his contract with the Rams. Before the 2011 season, the Rams cut his 2011 pay to $3 million, and wiped out the last year on his contract. So Bell made $3 million in 2011 for St. Louis, was an unrestricted free agent, and signed a one-year, $890,000 deal with the Bengals.
I asked Bell: "If you were on your previous contract with the Rams, due to make $6 million this year, would you have retired?"
"That's a very good question,'' he said. "And therein lies the problem. How can you say when you're being offered so much money, the kind of money that can secure your future, to play football? So of course it played a role."
Money, Bell thinks, helps keep many players in the game longer than they might truly want to. "I guarantee you if you asked every player in the NFL if they'd do it for $500,000 a year, a lot of them would do something else,'' he said.
Bell said since he made his retirement public, he's gotten "overwhelming support'' from former teammates and friends, many of whom he hadn't heard from in a while. He said the Junior Seau suicide was a factor in his decision, but not an overwhelming one. "It played a part, because Junior did so many great things for his community,'' said Bell. "But I have been thinking about this for some time. I have been weighing the risks and rewards of playing the game since day one. And when you play in the NFL, you think about it, but it always seems to get outweighed by the glory and the fame and the money you get for playing.''
Now that Bell isn't playing anymore, he can devote his energy to working toward a goal of educating every player about the realities of the health risks. I know it's a slippery slope, but the NFL and NFL Players Association should use Bell's retirement as part of the clarion call toward player safety. The NFL, for one, should invite him to the Rookie Symposium this summer, to tell his story.
Now for your email:
THANKS. "I've loved your column ever since I stumbled onto it years ago while looking for fantasy football advice (which by the way, isn't very good--haha). What's great about MMQB is how you humanize football players and bring us into their personal lives. For every time you write about a superstar like Brett Favre, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, there is always something about someone not as well known, like Tony Corrente, Sgt McGwire and Steve Gleason. Today, I just finished reading about Wayne Dorsey - I still haven't finished the rest of the column - and felt compelled to write in.
I've never met Wayne Dorsey. Heck I've never even heard of him until today and yet I found myself glued to the screen, reading line by line and hoping that he would receive an invite to the Raiders camp. Not sure why his story touched me - maybe it's because I gave on my dreams years ago after tearing my ACL in high school, maybe its because I've been unemployed for the past year or maybe because its Mothers Day and I feel like I haven't made my mother as proud of me as Mr. Dorsey's mother is of him right now. I've never met Wayne Dorsey, but can you tell him that he has a fan in Canada who is cheering for him, and that he has inspired me to never give up on my dreams - which by the way, is to become a sportswriter like you. Please keep us updated on Wayne's progress and thank you again for your excellent work.''-- From Fuz, of Toronto
Really nice of you to write, Fuz. Good luck to you. The Dorsey story hit me the same way. I think he's a longshot, of course, but he'll have a lot of people pulling for him.
DANGER FOR T-JACK. "On Russell Wilson, I agree that Flynn should not be worried, but do you think Tavaris Jackson should be? I think Carroll and Schneider are trying to be noncommittal here, but it seems likely Flynn will 'win' the starting job given what he did in his few NFL starts and the amount we paid to get him. But, T-Jack should be a little nervous given what he has done in his starts.''-- From Michael Lapin, of Seattle
Jackson had last season to convince the Seahawks he should be their quarterback of the future. He didn't do that. So they've gone shopping, and you're right: If Russell Wilson is good, and he's good early, Jackson will either be No. 3 or he'll be cut during camp.
THE LOS ANGELES CANDIDATES. "I found the Vikings stadium story interesting, and I also find your LA Most Wanted list interesting as well. I have two questions - One - If you don't think any of those teams are likely to move, is the next best option an expansion team or two? Throws off the divisional symmetry, but could be the only way. Two - Just to spark a controversy, what would you list of the five teams least likely to move to LA look like? Mine would be Packers, 49ers, Patriots, Cowboys and Bears.''-- From John Vojtech, of St. Charles, Ill.
There are probably 20 teams least likely, all tied for first. That's a long list. Regarding expansion, I don't see it for now -- it would dilute the TV money each team receives by something like $5 million per year, and it would create the kind of divisional imbalance that teams in that division would protest strongly. That's not to say in four or five years if there's not a team or two that moves that the league won't look to Los Angeles. I think you should watch the machinations between St. Louis and the local government about fixes to the Edward Jones Dome and to the lease closely, and you should watch the Raiders' poor stadium situation in Oakland as well. Though I think the Rams will eventually work things out in St. Louis, it's not a sure thing, and they're nearing the end of their lease.
THE STALLED BREES TALKS. "Peter, I'm hearing that Drew Brees and the Saints are not only not close to a new deal, but not even talking for some 30 or so days now. What's going on here? Part of me thinks since Brees never had a mega-deal in San Diego and was vastly underpaid for his first contract with N.O. (given the performance he gave them over those seasons) that the Saints should pay him everything he wants and then some and be glad about it. So I don't consider Brees 'greedy' as I've seen some other fans label him. And yet, knowing that no QB will ever win a Super Bowl by themselves, I also think Brees might be cutting his own throat by demanding every penny he can get and not leaving more money to spread around to other skill players and the defense.''-- From Zack Hartman, of Austin, Texas
Saints GM Mickey Loomis is a very strong-willed man, as is the agent for Brees, Tom Condon. And as is Brees. So this was always going to be a contentious issue. You're right -- one of the reasons Brees feels so strongly about getting paid more than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning is because he so far out-performed his contract of six years and $60 million. That's a middle-of-the-road (at best) quarterback salary for a man who has put up the best numbers in football, collectively, over that period. The way I view the deal is that, eventually, owner Tom Benson is going to get emotional if, say, in the middle of August Brees is holding out, and he'll eventually jump in and push to get the deal done. That's a gut feeling; no inside information there. So I think Brees will be there. There's just going to be some pain along the way.
MAYBE THAT'S A GOOD THING, JASON. "I'm a life-long Cowboys fan so forgive me if I sound a little selfish but I haven't heard ANYTHING from the Cowboys so far this off-season. Usually Jerry has us in the spotlight for something during thise time of year but I haven't heard anything. Is it due to all the negative stuff going on right now concerning the NFL and Jerry is just laying low or is there really nothing happening in Dallas?''-- From Jason, of North Carolina
Remember how quiet the Giants were in the 2011 offseason? That worked out pretty well. Don't fret. The offseason is more hype than reality around the NFL. The Cowboys have done the best thing for their team that they could do in the offseason -- rebuild their corner depth with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.
A KATZENBACH FAN WRITES. "Great call on the Katzenbach passing. One of the all time underrated greats (and a Jersey boy to boot). Your non-football thoughts add so much to the column; do not let anyone ever talk you out of giving us more than just football news and analysis. If Mark Davis does not move my beloved Raiders to L.A., what do you envision happening? Will he swallow his father's pride and buddy up with the Niners in Santa Clara?''-- From Graham Galloway, of Reno, Nev.
Thanks. Mark Davis wants to keep the team, and if he actually does keep it, I believe he's going to have to find a stadium solution outside of Oakland. It'd be very odd for the two Bay Area teams to be playing 50 minutes from downtown San Francisco and downtown Oakland, but that may be the only option that allows him to keep the team there.
THERE ARE ALWAYS MEETINGS, BUT I KNOW OF NOTHING IMMINENT. "Are you aware of anything happening between the NFL and Time Warner Cable in regards to making NFL Network available on TWC? I hate it that I and millions of other fans are unable to watch Thursday night football, especially with the network picking up more games earlier in the season. I'm unable to get DirecTV (no line of sight to my house) and feel like I'm being punished because there are no other options available. Quite frankly, I'm surprised that there isn't more chatter about this because it affects so many people.''-- From Andrew Giordano, of Clifton, N.J.
I keep thinking the NFL's got to find a way to bridge the gap with Time Warner, but I've not heard of anything signifying the two sides are close. It's sad, obviously. I can only hope your letter, and the sentiment of so many people like you, continues to chip away at the problem.
SHOULD THE FALCONS CHASE DALLAS CLARK? "With the Falcons' signing of Chris Polian, and Tony Gonzalez getting older, and the fact that there is not really a serviceable replacement for him, do you believe the Falcons could sign Dallas Clark? He's a better third-down receiver option than Harry Douglas in four-receiver sets, and would give Matt Ryan one more weapon. What are your thoughts?"-- From Jay Johnson, of Cartersville, Ga.
I don't see it. You can't sign Dallas Clark, because of his recent injury history, and expect he's going to be a reliable 16-game player for your team and give you 20 snaps a game. The Chiefs' consideration of Clark is smart because he'd be a third tight end. Some weeks, they'd use him six or eight snaps, and some weeks they might use him 15 to 20.