Brian Banks and his mother, one of the only people who really believed Banks was innocent of rape for a decade, were on a dream trip to Times Square in New York last week, walking and marveling at the sights they were seeing for the first time after telling his incredible story on
You know the story: One of the best high school football prospects in the country in 2002, Banks, at 16, was convicted of raping a girl in a stairwell at their high school in Long Beach, Calif. Though there was no DNA evidence connecting Banks to the crime, his attorney convinced him he could go to jail for decades, not years, if he chose trial instead of the plea deal. Banks took a plea deal and went to prison for five years and two months, then served almost five more years under a form of near-house arrest before the girl recanted her story. On May 24, 2012, a judge set Banks free.
Ever since, Banks was waiting for the phone call that came to him in Times Square last Tuesday afternoon.
"It's going down,'' the voice on the other end of the phone said. "It's really happening. You're getting signed by the Falcons tomorrow."
The voice belonged to Jay Glazer, the FOX NFL scoopmeister and mixed martial arts trainer who works with many NFL players. For the past nine months, at no charge, Glazer and another trainer, Travelle Gaines, have been preparing Banks for what most people would consider the impossible dream. After having a promising career interrupted for 10 full seasons and after not playing a down of college football, Banks, working alongside several NFL players, including Cincinnati inside linebacker Rey Maualuga, got in the kind of shape that one NFL team thought was worth a training-camp roster spot.
"Buddy," Glazer said to a stunned Banks in New York, "You got your dream back."
In the last week, there has been much speculation about the opportunity Banks will have with the Atlanta Falcons in training camp. To be sure, it's a long shot. In fact, it might be the longest shot any team has in training camp this summer. But this is still progress for Banks, after the linebacker worked out last year for the Falcons, Seahawks, 49ers">49ers and Chiefs without a contract offer.
I agree with Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff: This is not a charity case. Well, maybe it's a good deed by the Falcons; it certainly is a magnanimous gesture, to give a player a five-month opportunity at a gig that seemed impossible a year ago, when Banks was sitting home in California, an ankle bracelet monitoring his every move.
I can think of two good reasons Atlanta is bringing Banks into the fold. One is mental. So many players on a team have had nothing but good fortune for their college and professional lives. Big money, chartered airplanes taking them to games in front of stadiums packed with fans. The good life. So many players received college scholarships to famous football schools for their 18th birthdays. On his 18th birthday, Banks was sent to a maximum-security prison in California. Seriously, that happened on his 18th birthday. So Banks, during the dog days of offseason workouts and training camp, might just have the kind of just-happy-to-be-here attitude that could be infectious.
The second reason is because football is a game of passion and unrelenting effort. If a player at 16 was being recruited by major colleges and had the chance to be a first-round pick, who is to say that an idle decade would destroy all that athletic talent? Maybe Banks will be a step behind the other inside linebackers in Falcons training camp come July. Maybe time has robbed him of his gifts. But what if he still has some or most of his gifts?
I can think of 10 special-teams players over the years who have made rosters because, while possessing marginal talent, they simply worked harder and wanted it more than players they competed with in camp. It's unrealistic to think that Banks can win a starting job based on where he is as a football player right now. But I don't believe it's unrealistic that he can compete to be a backup player and special-teams ace. And that sends a message to the other players in Falcons camp, that talent isn't a golden ticket if a player isn't willing to put in the time and effort to maximize that talent.
"I'm well aware of what people think about this," Banks said. "That's not something I can control. All I know is I have been given a chance. As coach [Mike] Smith and Mr. Dimitroff told me, 'We didn't bring you here for nothing. There's no reason for us to bring you in, unless we think you have a chance to help us.' But when people say I really don't have a chance, it fuels me. I do have to cover some ground, but what I'm happy about right now is that even though I am 27, I'm a young 27."
Last summer, Glazer convinced the Falcons to give Banks a tryout. They chose not to sign him, in part because he wasn't in good football condition and because of the side show the signing would've created as the Falcons whittled their active roster down to 53. But Glazer persisted in trying to get Banks another shot, and last week the Falcons signed him. As deflated as Banks was to not get signed last year, that's how excited he was when he passed his physical in Atlanta last week and signed an NFL contract.
"I passed cloud nine," Banks texted Glazer after signing. "I'm on cloud 10."
Banks worked alongside Maualuga, 49ers safety Dashon Goldson and veteran linebackers Kirk Morrison and Akeem Ayers during the MMA workouts in Los Angeles this offseason. "On some days," Banks said, "I'm right on their case. I feel like I'm one with them." In camp, he'll have to be on that pace everyday and he knows that.
"When you've been through 10 years of hell, and you get a chance to fulfill your dream, you're not going to take that lightly," Banks said. "After working out with these guys this offseason, I believe in myself as a player even more. I truly believe I will make a 53-man roster. I believe I will play. And I believe eventually I will start."
Now, for your email:
OF COURSE THEY SHOULD.
I'm sure GM Reggie McKenzie will try to move down in the first round, and he'll have company. With the book on the top of the draft being that the top 10 picks, in general, are good but not great players, and the next 30 or so being fairly even, we're going to see quite a few teams in the top 10 try to move down. The Raiders will be very fortunate if they do move, but they won't get the treasure trove of picks a team that high would normally get if there were four or five franchise players at the top of the draft.
I think what you're going to see in this draft is a group of teams taking players higher than the draftnicks think they should be taken. For instance, if Buffalo, at No. 8, has a strong belief in one quarterback who isn't Geno Smith, and if the Bills feel their man might get snatched later in the round, I wouldn't be surprised to see them take him there. This draft, I believe, has the potential for some stunning moments in the first round.
Jake Long was indisputably a premier player for his first three years in the NFL. He has been an injury-plagued player, through no fault of his own, for the last two years. He has missed six games and been sub-par in others due to injuries. Again: Through no fault of his own. If Long is healthy this year, I believe the Rams nabbed a stalwart left tackle. It's a deal I believe is worth the risk. But a premier player? You have to stay on the field and play at a high level to be one of those.
COLLEGE COACHES ARE JUST TRYING TO WIN.
If college coaches were in the business of developing players for the NFL more than they were in the business of trying to win, I would agree that they should prepare quarterbacks to think on the run better. But obviously the coaches who spend far more hours than quarterbacks can spend trying to figure out how to dissect defenses believe it's in their best interest to orchestrate the offense from A to Z themselves. That's why I don't see the system changing to give quarterbacks more power and independence in college football.
Sometimes in our business we assume that everybody knows how the cap works. That's why I appreciate your email. It's a complicated subject, particularly if you don't understand the concept of pro-rating bonus money to players. When you sign a player to, say, a five-year contract with a $10 million signing bonus, you assign $2 million for each of the next five seasons to that player's salary cap number. So if the player has a $3 million base salary, his cap number for that year would be $5 million -- the salary and pro-rated bonus combined. So if the Raiders wanted to sign a free agent (and Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie told me the team will sign some moderately priced free agents before training camp) this year, the team will have to keep a close eye on that $75 million figure. When the season begins, the 53 players on Oakland's active roster plus the eight practice-squad players must have salary cap numbers that collectively do not exceed $75 million.
One of the reasons I believe McKenzie deserves at least two more years after this one before people can make firm judgments about his job performance is because he can spend about 60 percent of what the average NFL team can spend on players this year. Could McKenzie borrow against the future to sign players? Yes, and he could have figured a way to re-sign Desmond Bryant, a prized young player signed away by Cleveland in free agency. But he was making a statement in the last 15 months. That statement is that he's determined to get the cap totally under control in Oakland before spending money borrowed from future years.
THIS SAYS IT ALL.
Bills fans, take note.