More stars opting out without officially declaring for draft

Rob Rang

While the list of high-profile college football players making their 2021 NFL draft intentions public has grown to nine in recent days, a second group is quietly catching up to them.

That would be a growing group of players who are choosing to opt out on the 2020 college football season without specifically stating their plans (yet) for the NFL.

In the past week, we’ve seen two of the best at their respective positions – Oklahoma running back Kennedy Brooks and Mississippi center Eli Johnson – make these declarations.

Why might players choose to remain mum on their future plans? Especially on a decision that is usually a step towards fulfilling a life-long dream?

For starters, the very nature of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe is forcing all of us to evaluate and then re-evaluate what we think we know about the virus, its after-effects and how life gets back to “normal” on nearly a daily basis.

This is especially the case for a player like Johnson, whose family has been savagely attacked by the virus.

Johnson's announcement was about as short and simply-put as it gets with little interpretation needed. 

Brooks has not made a public announcement on his social media accounts, even days after Jason Kersey of The Athletic reported his decision. 

In both cases, it is an acknowledgement that players need not make their plans public. 

Doing so leaves them little wiggle room should their plans change. 

Further, it opens them up to criticism from passionate college football fans who only see the numbers on the jerseys rather than human beings.

Just as importantly, however, is money.

Typically, when a player makes a public declaration that they are heading to the NFL early, they have already consulted with plenty of agents.

For those relying on movies like Jerry Maguire as their primary source of understanding as to what NFL agents do for their clients, it is a lot more than contract negotiations.

To start, marketing firms within the agencies often help the player formulate their public announcement and, at times, help smooth over tough conversations with their college coaches.

The real money enters the equation on the next step, however, as many players today expect their agents to provide access to training for pre-draft workouts. Those costs of these trainers often quickly run into the tens of thousands of dollars – and that is during a normal year when athletes are only working out from January to April.

Further, many players expect some immediate help with living expenses. Again, by essentially doubling the time in which agents might be asked to pay for players before their loans are paid back with the signing of their rookie deals, the cost is simply too much for many agencies.

The business of sports from the Big Ten and Pac-12 conference perspective is discussed in the video atop this article with SI’s own Andrew Brandt and Brendan Gulick joining Robin Lundberg for a quick check-in.

Meanwhile, longtime friend and coworker Ric Serritella of NFL Draft Bible has been hosting deeper conversations about the business-side of football during the pandemic from a player, agent, trainer and scout lens.

With a limited number of agencies (or trainers) with pockets deep enough to make these ultra-early investments in players – and only the top 50 picks or so generating the “big” rookie deals to warrant the financial gamble -- it is looking more and more like this second group of players quietly opting out may overtake those officially making their 2021 NFL draft plans known.

This could be especially true in conferences like the Pac-12 and Big Ten, which have already canceled their fall football seasons. 

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