No loyalty rewards program in NFL

At age 37, Packers' receiver Donald Driver could be finished in Green Bay. (REUTERS)

At age 37, Packers' receiver Donald Driver could be finished in Green Bay. (REUTERS)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:08 PM ET

Momma don’t let your babies grow up to be football players.

At least, not if they want to have control of their lives. Donald Driver could be done in Green Bay, mostly because of age, and Charles Woodson could be asked to move to another position.

In Indianapolis, Jeff Saturday is considering retirement and head coach Jim Caldwell is interviewing candidates to be his assistant one day, and then is fired the next.

The speculation is Montreal Alouettes’ Mark Trestman could be one of the candidates to replace him. But nobody knows. It’s Indianapolis, where the only thing in charge is uncertainty.

The transient nature, the vagary and the “what haven’t you done for us lately” approach that permeates the NFL has insinuated itself on the pageantry and excitement of the Super Bowl run-up.

It is exhibited in the all-encompassing charge by the players’ association that the league is refusing to pay players who have been advised by team concussion specialists that “it is too dangerous ... to ever play professional football again.”

In other words, if doctors were to tell Colt McCoy it was too dangerous for him to play football, he could be working on a highway crew next year picking up trash — you know, instead of being just called “trash.” If true, it affects every player who signs a contract he believes is guaranteed.

As it is, most NFL contracts are largely fairy-tale money. Most players can be cut without ever collecting on their “contracts” because, other than up-front money, little in most cases is guaranteed. Forget Sam Bradford or this year’s money tree, also known as Andrew Luck. Truth is that the median salary for an NFL player in 2010 was $770,000 and 352 players ended up on injured reserve chasing that dream.

In St. Louis, Jason Smith, the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, signed a deal that was supposed to have a base salary of $10 million.

Sounds impressive. But good luck collecting.

Smith has appeared in only 29 of 48 games and the Rams, unimpressed with his play at either right or left tackle, are expected to waive him any day. Goodbye paycheque. Only $1 million is guaranteed and, unless he agrees to a huge pay cut, he can expect to turn in his playbook.

Now, it’s difficult to feel sympathy for guys who have earned big money. Still, for a player like Driver, it exhibits that “loyalty” in pro sports doesn’t always run both ways. He’s a 13-year veteran with Green Bay and wants to stay, but likely will become a victim of a youth movement.

He’s 37. The Packers have been happy with the development of rookie receiver Randall Cobb and would like to find a role for promising practice squad receiver Tori Gurley.

“Right now, I’m not ready to put the cleats up, so I guess I’ll be going somewhere else to play,” Driver said. “I want to stay ... I don’t make any decisions.”

Even excellence doesn’t guarantee a job.

Woodson came into the 2010 season as the NFL defensive player of the year. But safety Nick Collins may not recover from a neck injury, so defensive coordinator Dom Capers is considering moving Woodson from cornerback to safety.

Saturday is just considering moving on. With life.

“I have my own decision to make long before I worry what the Colts are going to do,” Saturday told the Indianapolis Star. “I’m considering not playing.”

Saturday turns 37 this year. He’s a free agent and, even if they wanted him, he’s uncertain — after 13 seasons — whether he wants to return to the new-look Colts with a new coach and possibly a new quarterback. Perhaps Saturday could wind up with Peyton Manning in another city.

“This game can be hard when times go bad, and that’s the situation we’re in,” Saturday said after Caldwell was fired Tuesday.

The move by new general manager Ryan Grigson was generally greeted with sadness by players who, in recent happier times, celebrated a Super Bowl with Caldwell.

“He was a great guy, but I just think his hands were tied (by former GM Bill Polian), to be honest,” defensive end Robert Mathis said. “He didn’t have the flexibility to do all that he wanted to do. However you want to take it, that’s just the truth of the matter.”

Excellence, even greatness, comes with no guarantee. Even being in charge doesn’t always really mean “being in charge. “If the public understood that 78% of athletes two years out of the game are either bankrupt, divorced or unemployed, they would have a much graver understanding of how difficult this lifestyle is,” Bob Lamonte, a player agent, educator and member of the board at New York University recently told Sun Media. According the the NFL Players Association, the average career of an NFL player is 3.3 years.

Caldwell was respected. So are Woodson and Driver. So are a lot of the nameless who are churned through the meat grinder that is the NFL practice roster each year.

But, in the end, like so much of life, there are no guarantees.


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