NFL Teams Wrestle with Opt-Out Issue

If a prospect sat out the 2020 season, teams have been asking why, but it likely won't impact the players who are already perceived as first-rounders
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PHILADELPHIA – They all had their reasons for opting out, and now it is a question each one of the college prospects available in this draft all have had to answer: why?

“This is where you want to have that couple minutes on Zoom with a few players to understand the overall scope of why they decide to opt-out,” said Mike Dominik on a conference call Monday afternoon.

Dominik, who hosts The SiriusXM Blitz on Friday afternoon on SiriusXM NFL Radio and worked in the front office of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 19 seasons, added: “I heard lots of different stories from lost a family member to how the conference handled Covid to didn’t feel safe and secure. I want to hear, number one, why the player made that decision then kind of validate from the background to make sure it’s not a competitive thing.

“I don’t want to put it under competitive, but I want to make sure the player wants to play. I would try to make a better decision by understanding what was behind that.”

Several of the players scheduled to be taken in the first round opted out due to COVID-19 and the impact it made on the college football season.

While it may affect some players, especially as the draft goes beyond the first round, it doesn't figure to impact the players being mentioned as sure-fire first-rounders.

Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley did it because he didn’t want to risk giving the virus to his father, especially after Farley lost his mom while he was in high school.

“It’s just my personal situation,” he said. “It was something that I couldn’t ignore, you know, I didn’t have peace about the situation. … It didn’t matter if I was the only one. I had to play it cautious. That’s just what I felt in my heart. And I don’t want to look back and regret it because to this day I’m, COVID free. My father was COVID free and you know, I, I just gotta thank God.”

Miami-Florida defensive end Greg Rousseau’s mom is a nurse, so he had the opinion of a front-line worker.

“The time I opted out, into the July-August time period, there was uncertainty surrounding the season,” said Rousseau. “So, I talked about it with my family. Talked to the coaches and it was just like in my best interest to opt-out.”

The Big Ten initially canceled its season then changed course. By the time the league decided to play, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons was already too far down the road, he said, in preparing for the draft to turn back midstream and play.

South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn cited family reasons.

“I give them the straight-up answer,” he said when asked what he tells teams when they ask about his decision to sit out 2020. “My mom and grandparents are from Mississippi. My mom and two younger siblings went down there a couple of weeks. My two younger siblings got Covid, my grandparents got it, and my aunt, who was considered high risk, got it.

“Ultimately, she passed. My main reason for opting out was to spend time with them, with my aunt especially, before I had to go out to train. After the season you don’t really have time to be with your family or anything. After I heard the news about my aunt, I wanted to spend time with my family before I moved on to the next stage of my life.

“I could tell you now if I could go back I’d do it again, I put my family before anything. I feel my teammates and coaches know how much I love the game of football, but I put my family before the game. If I could go back, I’d do it again.”

Horn is like many prospects – no regrets for their decision.

Jerry Jacobs, a cornerback from Arkansas does, though.

“One hundred percent sure I regret it,” said Jacobs, who is likely a day three pick. “If I could do it again, I'd change that decision. I did it on my own. I didn't talk to anybody. I talked to Coach [Sam] Pittman, but he gave me a lot of reasons why I should have stayed. I probably wasn't just hearing it at the moment. I feel like I regret it 1,000 percent. Live and learn. So, got to let it go."

Other opt-outs such as Ja’Marr Chase, Penei Sewell, and Rashawn Slater won’t see it impact their draft status at all. They will still likely be taken in the top 15 if not the top 10.

“Talent is always going to win out,” said Dominik. “Sewell, for example, is a really good player and I’m comfortable enough with his answer and a team has to get comfortable with the opt-out answer but they will always default to talent because that’s a hard thing to find.”

How the Eagles feel about opt-out players isn’t yet known, but GM Howie Roseman and vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl are expected to hold a pre-draft news conference at some point between now and the start of the draft on April 29.

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven and host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.