Congratulations. I am thrilled for you as this will be an amazing time for you. I wrote a letter to last year's class of rookies concerning the things they needed to know to have a smooth transition into the NFL. I highly recommend you read it.
This year's letter is different. Whereas last year's advice was a hard look at the short term, this is more of the long view. Look at it as career advice. Provided, of course, you actually have an NFL career. That part is up to you. But if you get off to a good start and it looks like you are going to be in the league awhile, make sure you keep the following things in mind:
• Plan for life after football. If I just blew your mind with that one, sorry. I know you may not have even considered it yet, but you need to. Believe me, I hope you have a wildly successful career and play this game for the next 10 years. But even if you do play that long, which is seven years longer than the average by the way, you will still only be 32. So the question is, what are you going to do for the next 50 years?
I'm not suggesting you spend a great deal of time thinking about your next career before you even really start this one. Your first priority should be to do everything you can to maximize your opportunity. Enjoy it, appreciate it, but recognize it is not going to last forever. As such, you are cheating yourself if you don't take advantage of all of the NFL's Player Development opportunities, like finishing your degree or taking an offseason internship. Contrary to popular opinion, having something else to fall back on doesn't make you any less hungry in your football career. Quite the opposite, it allows you to focus on football without having to spend any time worrying about what you are going to do if you get injured or released.
• You only get one body. You've probably never really thought about it like that. I know I didn't when I was your age. My guess is every time you have gotten injured, you only looked at it in terms of the amount of weeks you wouldn't be able to play. I can tell you from experience there is more to it than that.
Fact is, a lot of times those injuries will stay with you in some capacity for the rest of your life. Hardly a day goes by I don't have some sort of minor discomfort that reminds me about my time in pro football. Maybe it is my right knee, fingers, or big toe. Or maybe some stiffness in my lower back as a result of surgery I had in Buffalo. And I actually happen to think I feel pretty good.
You see, the flaw when it comes to making a decision about playing through a given injury is you don't know what the long-term implications are going to be. There's no way to know when you are 26 and considering playing a week after you had your knee scoped how you are going to feel when you are 36, 46, or 56.
• Schedule for OTAs, minicamps for all 32 teams
Just make sure you are keenly aware your decision to play pro football may have a lasting impact on the rest of your life. I used to love playing basketball growing up and wish I could play now, but that is just not feasible because of my back and knee. I'm not complaining. I knew what I was getting into and I still think it was worth it. At least right now, at 31, that is.
• Save your money. No matter how much money your first contract says you are going to make, you need to realize two important things: 1. The only numbers that really matter are the ones truly guaranteed; 2. Even if it sounds like an insane amount of money, the reality is it probably isn't nearly as much as you think. (Sam Bradford, if you are reading this, I'm not really writing this part to you.)
For everyone else, keep in mind that after you pay your agent, union dues, taxes, and everything else, that number is drastically reduced. With every purchase you consider, keep in mind that you are hoping this money can help you live a nice life for a long time. Do you really need another car? That money, if saved, could go a long way 20 years from now.
• Choose your friends carefully. The people you associate yourself with are critically important. More people are going to want to be your friends than ever before. Girls, too, I might add. Even more than when you were big man on campus because now they think you are wealthy. And they think that, by the way, even if you are an undrafted free agent. As far as they are concerned, you are in the NFL, so you are rich.
Pay particular attention to how people treat you. Shy away from the people who treat you differently depending on whether you are in the starting lineup or recently got cut. There were a number of people who treated me differently depending on how my career was going and still do today now that I am done and working in the media. Those people don't matter.
The good ones are the ones who make fun of you mercilessly, whether or not you are the freshly minted first-round pick or the latest draft bust. Because they don't really care. They liked you before you made the NFL and they will like you after. Football is just part of who you are, not the whole thing.
Best of luck with your career and feel free to e-mail me at the top of this page if you have any questions or concerns. Good or bad, I can promise you it is going to be one heck of a ride.
Yours in football,Ross Tucker