Desmond Ridder spent the days leading up to last year’s NFL Draft preparing for his final college season and awaiting the birth of his first child.
The veteran quarterback returned to campus in hopes of improving his draft stock, boosting his potential future earnings, and leading Cincinnati to the college football playoffs.
Last summer’s NCAA decision to allow athletes to cash in on their celebrity status has sparked angst in college sports as a new multimillion-dollar market tangles with recruiting.
But it also allowed Ridder to pursue his college dreams and support his family. Ridder, now a possible first-round pick, thought it was the perfect combination.
“It allowed me to relax, especially financially,” he said at the NFL scouting meeting. “You know, having a house at the time, paying bills, which I probably couldn’t have done just on a COA (tuition allowance), so being able to start a family in April when I hosted my daughter in this world, it just calmed me down and kind of gave me a sense of security.”
If others follow Ridder’s lead, college football and the draft could be changed forever.
Some, like Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian, have long argued that too many underclassmen are leaving school for unsecured NFL paychecks rather than developing their skills and pursuing an education.
There is already evidence of the NFL’s premier draft earning money endorsement that this is happening.
Only 73 non-seniors declared themselves for this year’s draft, the lowest total in nine years. And while it’s too early to tell if this is just an anomaly in the age of COVID-19 and extra years of college eligibility or a trend, stories like than that of Ridder should have an impact.
Ask Peter Schoenthal, founder and CEO of Athliance. His company advises players from Division I schools on the nuances of name, image and likeness agreements and he is already hearing more about players staying in school longer. Now there’s money in it, even if it’s not pro contract money.
“So many times, especially in football and basketball, players come from low-income families where they have so much pressure to support and be the breadwinner of the family,” Schoenthal said. “Now if you go back to school and don’t rush the process you can make a good living and if money isn’t the factor it allows for the factors that really matter like individual development and a degree , I think you will see more players coming back.
Ridder is the best example this year.
While the star quarterback and his agent, Brian McLaughlin, have never made public how much Ridder actually earned last season, estimates have generally put the total at around $250,000 — more than enough to pay the bills.
Ridder traded in his Kia for a Range Rover and bought Bose headphones for his offensive linemen. He regularly took his teammates out to dinner and even gave expensive Christmas presents to his cousins.
Now he’s set to cash in again – this time as the better draft pick than last season.
Georgia wide receiver George Pickens was one of 10 varsity athletes signed to Tom Brady’s new clothing brand, BRADY. He traveled to New York, where he met the seven-time Super Bowl champion in person at the signing of the deal. Pickens should be a late pick in the first or second round.
Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, another potential first-rounder, sold t-shirts and donated the $30,000 to the university’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital, which may have gone against the rules. previous NCAA rules.
“I thought that would be a cool thing to do. Other people were doing stuff with the hospital so we created the T-shirt,” said Linderbaum, winner of the Rimington Trophy as the best center in the country. “I think (NIL) is a great opportunity to win money – as long as it doesn’t become a distraction.
Naturally, this is also a concern for college coaches in all sports.
Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, likely a first-round pick this week, was so worried about possible distractions that he initially rejected the NIL money. When her mother created a plan, however, Davis jumped on board.
“I didn’t really know what to do, I didn’t know how to go about it,” he said. “But with a little help my mum kind of ran the whole operation. She knew exactly what she wanted to do, we knew what we wanted to do and it felt good to be able to buy things for my mother and my brothers.
Finding that balance could help ease the transition from college to the pro ranks, as it did for Davis, or keep players like Ridder on campus a bit longer. Schoenthal thinks this is where college sports are ultimately heading.
“If I’m a fifth, sixth, seventh rounder and I have no guarantee of making a team and a practice squad guy makes $90,000, maybe I’d better to come back,” he said. “I absolutely think that’s going to happen and I think we’ll see second-round or third-round designated quarterbacks come back to get first-round money and earn some of that NIL money to close the gap. “
Ridder is just the first example of someone making that choice. He probably won’t be the last.
“For the mid-to-late-round guys who don’t really know where they’re going, there’s a lot of safety in there,” Ridder said. “If you’re a big name in your school, that you can stay there, make a lot of money and be able to make a name for yourself and increase and improve your draft stock, why not?”
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