This story appears in the Sept. 24–Oct. 1, 2018, issue of Sports Illustrated. For more great storytelling and in-depth analysis, subscribe to the magazine—and get up to 94% off the cover price. Click here for more.
Standing in the middle of a gutted first floor, the smell of fresh paint seeping down from upstairs, the roar of a power sander a few feet away, Brandon Copeland flips open his laptop. "These are my plans for the kitchen," says the 6'3", 263-pound Jets outside linebacker. He taps on the screen to reveal a document with handwritten notes at the top: EAGLES OFFENSE. "Oops—that's my playbook," he says. "These are the plans." The next tab has precise, hand-drawn diagrams of fixtures, measurements and cabinets that Copeland sketched while in the training room this summer in Florham Park, N.J.
It's less than 12 hours after the Jets' 10–9 loss to the Eagles in an August preseason game and Copeland is inspecting tile work in the bathroom and mapping out electrical wiring in the basement of a renovation project in Ellicott City, Md. The 27-year-old had bought the house for $384,000 in June 2017, about a year after he purchased his first investment property, in Detroit, at a time when his NFL future was in doubt.
Undrafted out of Penn in 2013, the Wharton School of Business graduate spent time on the Ravens' and the Titans' practice squads before sitting out the season. Finding no luck in the NFL, he was set to play for the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League in '15, when he got a last-minute invite to an NFL veterans' combine in Arizona where his 4.52-second 40 caught the attention of the Lions. He played for Detroit for two seasons before missing the '17 season because of a torn pectoral muscle. Copeland was picked up by the Jets in mid-March and is now suiting up for Gang Green while flipping houses on the side—the first time he has worked on blueprints and game plans simultaneously. "I never want to be dependent on one thing," he says.
Copeland calls himself an "entrepreneurship major" more often than a "football player"—he even took a job as an analyst on Wall Street last spring—and his time on the IR in Detroit allowed him to dive deeper into his business interests. One of his teammates suggested he try real estate. His first taste of house-flipping came through a partnership with his mentor, retired Lions guard Rob Sims, and then in June 2017, Copeland purchased his first house. The three-bedroom, 2½ bath in Detroit cost him $102,000, and within a few months, he signed contracts for two more properties. The renovation—and Copeland's education—had begun. Prices for painters? Colors that open up the space? The cost of drywall? "I'm the type of guy who just dives in," he says.
"I'm Joanna," he says, referring to Joanna Gaines, costar of the popular HGTV show, Fixer Upper. "I spent a lot of time talking to people, designing stuff, figuring out what to do when things fall through. It's fun to see that and build that. And to also know that there's life outside of the NFL."
In one year of flipping five houses in Detroit and the Baltimore area, Copeland says he has turned a six-figure profit. While he's the design lead and he foots most of the bills, many others contribute to the business: His mother, Angela, and some former teammates invest in the projects in exchange for a percentage of the profits; his wife, Taylor, a finance and strategy associate at Google, meticulously charts spending and calculates ROIs; and his brother, Chad, who's leading the charge on the Ellicott City house, is a budding project manager.
Sims—who started a business called Locker Room Consulting with former NFL players Calvin Johnson and Jason Strayhorn to help athletes transition to life after professional sports—considers Copeland a success story. "It's hard for the people who pay you millions to not expect you to give everything, all of you, to football," says Sims, 34. "But at the same time, if you're going to give your body up, you gotta get something out of the deal in the end, for your sake and your sanity. It's important to work on that next 30 years of income."
During the season, Copeland will monitor the Ellicott City house remotely, while managing his renovation budget of about $115,000. He hopes to sell the house for $650,000, turning a profit of about $150,000, split four ways with his investors. "A lot of people will tell you Plan B distracts from Plan A," says Copeland. "But it's all about compartmentalizing. You need to maximize this platform while you have it."