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The opportunity to interview every quarterback picked in the first round of the NFL draft, all together at once, doesn’t come often. As the five first-round passers walked into the Sports Illustrated suite at the Beverly Hilton during the NFLPA Rookie Premiere, it dawned on me: This may never happen again. Try to imagine a scenario where Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson are together again. They’ll go to their teams, live and train in different cities in the offseason, and most likely never be in a room with more than three members of this elite group.
So here was my only shot to get these future faces of the NFL—five men who shaped their college football programs and were arguably the largest individual revenue drivers at their respective schools—to talk about amateurism, the NCAA, and the possibility of paying players, a topic near and dear to my heart. I popped the question halfway through the half-hour sitdown, and Josh Allen almost fell out of his seat. He playfully leaned on Sam Darnold, away from Josh Rosen. Darnold leaned on Baker Mayfield. They all pointed at Rosen, the man with the most outspoken opinions on amateurism. Rosen, sadly, said it wasn’t the right time to get into it.
What they would talk about in terms of the economics of college football was the cottage industry that sprouted around them in the last decade. Elite 11-style camps, 7-on-7 leagues and tournaments, and the market for individual quarterback coaches exploded while this group was in high school. And they were almost unanimously critical of the movement.
Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals: “I feel like there’s a really unfair opportunity for exploitation in that industry when it comes to adults telling kids that they need to partake in this business of 7-on-7 in order to be seen by coaches, and by the way you’re giving me money to partake, and these are really young kids. There’s a lot to be said for just being a kid and being fun and not having to specialize and pick what professional sport you want to play at 13 or 14 years old. My family is not a football family, and we didn’t know what we were doing going through the whole process, so you’re seeking advice from people and you don’t know who has a vested interest. It can be unfair for families who haven’t been around the block.”
Sam Darnold, New York Jets: “For me, I never liked going to camps, because I was playing basketball and baseball in the offseason. But my junior year I broke my foot, and I didn’t have any tape for these college coaches to see. So I had to do camps because I needed to get that recognition from college coaches to get a scholarship offer and go to school for free, which is amazing. So it was a huge deal for me to go to camps and get recognized. So it was a good thing. But at the same time I think having fun and playing multiple sports is something I’m forever going to push with kids and parents.”
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns: “It’s different opportunities. Josh only needed the one scholarship. Sam needed the camps. It’s whatever you can do to put yourself in the best position. I don’t agree with a lot of the Elite 11-type stuff because a lot of those guys lay their claim on people like Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston or Cam Newton, and they did not create those guys or do anything to really push them into the spotlight. Those guys were going to be NFL quarterbacks from Day 1. They had the talent, they had their sights set.”
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens: I went to a couple camps, but I don’t feel like they were worth it at all. Because like Bake was saying, they just want to use you at the end of the day. When you get to that platform they just want to piggy-back. And the kids that come up after you and get to the next level, they use their name. I don’t think its right.”
Darnold: “For kids that don’t have a scholarship I think its the best thing for them. It depends on your perspective.”
Rosen: “I’d just be careful of it turning into how basketball is. It’s starting to dip into AAU with 7-on-7. Our generation grew up when 7-on-7 was catching on. Yes, it might be mutually beneficial, but I’d be careful if it starts to dip into one side of the pot a little bit. It’s a very tight rope to walk. There’s going to be behind-the-scenes corruption because of the power these people have with pulling strings behind the scenes.
Mayfield: “I think there already is.”
For the rest of The Big Interview with the five 2018 first-round QBs as they embark on their NFL careers, watch on SI TV with a free seven-day trial.
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