In the days leading up to the 2016 Citrus Bowl last December, it was announced that star LSU running back Leonard Fournette would not be participating in his school’s postseason tilt with Louisville. He wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t nursing himself back to health from anything. No, he was simply protecting his future as a sure-fire 1st round pick in the NFL draft in a few months. As Fournette saw it, why risk a serious injury in a meaningless game? LSU wasn’t playing for anything but an 8th win on the season and pride. And so, he sat out the Citrus Bowl, but LSU still managed a dominating victory over the Cardinals.
At the 2016 Sun Bowl just a day earlier, Stanford University had witnessed a similar story from their star running back and future NFL talent Christian McCaffrey. Much like LSU, Stanford still won the game, but the fact remained that their best asset sat on the sideline with an eye towards the future. No injury. No illness. Just protecting his health and readiness for the draft in the spring.
Now, players have probably sat out bowl games before last season. That wouldn’t surprise me. I’ll let some other poor sap write a history of player’s sitting out bowl games for various reasons. However, last year was the first time this action really caught my eye. These guys were big deals! I mean, McCaffrey was a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Fournette was a human highlight reel when healthy. It’s a big deal if those guys aren’t on the field. But what’s more is their actions suddenly opened Pandora’s Box to college football players everywhere. Why risk your health so your team can go get that “elusive” 8th win over a middling Power 5 opponent? As we’ve seen from the last two years, this trend has begun, and it doesn’t look like it’s losing steam any time soon.
Cut to this past Tuesday.
Here we are at the historic, highly anticipated Cactus Bowl! The matchup we’ve deserved all year: The 7-5 Kansas State Wildcats vs. the 6-6 UCLA Bruins. Get excited!
But wait…Prior to the game, it was announced star UCLA QB and projected 1st round pick Josh Rosen would be held out of the season finale against the Wildcats. The team cited the fact that he had suffered two concussions in November and wasn’t cleared by team doctors. That’s valid. Concussions are not a joke. However, you will not convince me that his intention on declaring for the draft very soon had nothing to do with this decision.
What it looked like to me, and many others following the sport, was that Rosen was protecting himself. After all, Rosen has been famously outspoken on his feelings of the phrase “student athlete” and how that’s the biggest contradiction in college football. He’s gone as far as to use the word “exploitation.” And that’s not coming out of nowhere. He’s not just tossing out this word casually. He’s well spoken, he’s smart, and makes no bones about how he feels laying his body on the line while his university rakes in the dough and he sees exactly zero of that cash.
And that brings us to the subject of this article. No. Not should players be sitting out their bowl games. We can talk endlessly about that. I do want to talk about that, but I’d like to zero in on the case of Josh Rosen specifically. It’s here. It’s now, and we should talk about it!
Now let me be clear. I personally like Josh Rosen. I think he’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he’s not afraid to speak his mind. We need more players like Rosen. He’s got spunk without coming across as a loudmouth. I see both sides of the argument, though. Turning your back on your teammates, leaving the job unfinished at UCLA vs. protecting your greatest asset as an athlete (your body obvi). So, let’s take a look at both arguments, and I’ll let you all decide for yourselves how you feel.
Sitting Out: The Case Against Rosen
So, he actually did it. He actually sat the game out. He turned his back on his teammates, his coaches, the fans who traveled to Phoenix, and the university in general. He basically told UCLA “thanks for everything, but homeboy has to go get paid.”
Nevermind the guys on the team who will never play another competitive game of football again in their lives. Those guys who are relying on their leader to win this last game for them. Nevermind the underclassmen who see the bowl game as a launching pad to next season. Nevermind the legacy you are leaving behind at UCLA. A guy with all the hype who could only manage to lead his team to a disappointing 6-6 record the year after missing a bowl completely. A guy who couldn’t live up to the hype in general. Nevermind all that.
All that matters is #1, Josh.
And about these recent comments that have been coming out about possible draft destinations.
“I’d rather be a lower pick at the right team than a higher at the wrong team.”
Why you got the kick the 0-15 Browns when they’re down? Damn, that’s cold, son! You can feel the breeze from that shade you just threw all the way to Cleveland, my man. Now, it’s not like he came out and said, “I don’t want to play in Cleveland.”
But oh wait…Adam Schefter said you KIIIINNNDAAA did say that. And you didn’t deny it. Also, you basically threatened the Browns saying you’d rather stay for your senior season than go #1 overall to them. This isn’t looking good for your character.
Couple of other things I want to say about all those comments:
1. How do you know Cleveland even wants you? In fact, seems like the Browns have been hinting at being more interested in USC’s Sam Darnold at #1. Their GM has clapped back and said something to the effect of “we want a guy who actually wants to be here.” That’s not a direct quote, but you get it. They don’t even want you, bro!
2. You know where Wyoming is, yeah? I know you’re usually playing on Saturdays, but there’s a guy there who’s pretty good at football too. His name is Josh Allen. He didn’t play major college football, but this guy named John Elway likes him a whole lot apparently. Here’s the thing, Josh. If you don’t go #1 overall, which it seems like you won’t, there’s no guarantee you’d even be the 2nd QB off the board. Barring a trade, it seems like the Broncos would make Allen the next signal caller off the board. Let’s not assume things, ok?
3. What does this say about your character? Shouldn’t you be ready to face the challenge of winning in Cleveland head on? Shouldn’t you be so confident in your abilities that you’ll be the one to buck the trend of Cleveland flameouts? Did Matt Stafford balk when the 0-16 Lions took him at #1? No, he didn’t, and now he’s gettin’ paid! Also…one more time…who said you were even going to be the #1 pick?
4. What if you go back to school and the Browns pick high again next year? What then?! Hmm?!!!
5. Do you think this is really a good way to endear yourself as a player to your future fan base? Do you really want the first impression of you as an NFL player being the guy who shaded Cleveland before the draft? Ok, if you end up anywhere else in the AFC North, then yeah maybe those comments would be applauded. BUT…Look at the back pedaling Myles Garrett had to do last season. I mean, in the end, he ended up swallowing his pride, but that’s not starting off on the right foot. But like…John Elway started off his career by threatening to play baseball instead of heading to Baltimore, and it worked out for him. So what do I know?
All in all, there are some strong reasons Rosen should have played that game. If he is bolting for the NFL, it would have been his last game with the Bruins. His last chance to put some film on tape. His last chance to trot out there with his college teammates. Ok, that just sounds ridiculous as I read what I wrote. Let’s get to the supporting arguments already.
Sitting Out: Protect the Goods!
UCLA was 6-6 coming into the Cactus Bowl. 6-6. It was a bad year. UCLA fell well short of expectations for the second year in a row, and even though the actually made a bowl game this season, it was THE CACTUS BOWL. Let’s say Rosen does play in this game and breaks his leg. Well, now Rosen has to skip all the combine and pre-draft events because he was going for that elusive 7th win. At the end of the day, not a single one of us will judge Josh Rosen’s career on his last collegiate season. It does not matter to me whether his team went 6-7 or 7-6.
And speaking of UCLA, this is a university in flux right now. Jim Mora Jr. was expectedly shown the door, and Chip Kelly has taken up shop in southern California. If I’m Rosen, there’s no way I’m coming back for one more year so I can learn a brand new offense that I don’t fit well into. If I’m trying to impress pro scouts with the skill set of Rosen, I’m certainly not doing it under Chip Kelly.
So, let’s address those Cleveland comments. First of all, is he wrong? No. Cleveland has shown a complete lack of understanding of how to draft, groom, maintain or even do the first thing it takes to build a winning team. Many other teams have accomplished far more with lesser draft picks, free agent moves, what have you. Cleveland has bungled almost every single bit of good fortune they’ve had in the draft over the last two decades, and so why should this year be any different? What has Cleveland shown that hints at them turning this whole thing around? Why, even last year, they were anointing Deshone Kizer the QB of the future, and yet, here we are again talking about the Browns needing a QB.
Also, Hue Jackson HAS WON ONE GAME IN TWO YEARS SINCE TAKING OVER. ONE GAME. THAT’S IT. WHO WANTS TO PLAY FOR THEM?!
Here’s a list of quarterbacks Cleveland has drafted in the last decade I can remember off the top of my head: Johnny Manziel, Brady Quinn, Cody Kessler, Brandon Weeden, Tim Couch, Deshone Kizer.
And if that’s not enough, the Browns will possibly be losing perennial Pro Bowler, and maybe one of the greatest offensive linemen of all time, Joe Thomas. He’s hinted at retirement, and with the current state of the Browns, who can blame him? He stuck it out through thick and thin, but once he leaves, I’m even less confident than before that Rosen would have any kind of offensive line protection whatsoever. See: Andrew Luck.
Bottom line: I’m shading the team in the press too if I’m him! What a bold strategy. Anything to get that dumpster fire away from me! You want to come out and say you prefer Darnold over me? GOOD! Hope that sucker enjoys his 2 1/2 year career. Literally anyone else draft me. Giants? Let’s go! Broncos? You bet! Jets? Sure, why not! At least I’m not in Cleveland.
And this is not a new thing! Guys have requested not to play for teams before. In 1983, John Elway threatened to sign with the Yankees if the Colts didn’t trade him. A week after the draft, he was in Denver, and even though he came across as a spoiled Cali boy at first, I’d say it worked out pretty well for John. In 2004, Eli Manning refused to play for the Chargers. He ended up swapping places with Phillip Rivers. Eli has two rings. It worked out again. Do we still talk about them requesting NOT to play for teams or do we talk about the Super Bowls they won? I’ll wait.
You know, it’s easy as a bystander to just sit on the sidelines and criticize this guy for bailing on his team. But…it’s just not worth it. There’s millions of dollars coming to Rosen in the next calendar year. So why on Earth would you go out there, risk it all in a meaningless bowl game, and possibly cost yourself millions?
I know it can be hard for people to put themselves into an athlete’s shoes in cases like this, but let’s use a real-world example. Let’s say you’re a brilliant accountant who does their best work by hand. Let’s say you’ve been doing pro-bono work just to get your name out there. You develop a great reputation. A huge accounting firm comes to you with a 6 figure contract, but you won’t start for a few months. In the meantime, your old customers ask you to do their taxes by hand. Painstaking work. You know it will be time consuming and take a lot out of you. And, if you do it, you may not be 100% when you start your new 6-figure job in a few months. Would you take the pro-bono job willingly? Maybe. But you’d definitely consider NOT doing it. LOOOOONG analogy, but you get it, yeah?
Listen, I love the game, but college football players straight up get exploited. It’s a painful truth. Especially the notable ones like Rosen. How much money does Rosen get from having his UCLA jersey sold? ZERO. How much money has Josh Rosen made off his likeness at UCLA? ZERO.
It’s time to get paid, Josh. Go make your money.
So that’s what I’ve got. There are arguments for and against his decision. All in all, I think he did the right thing. It’s just not worth it. You can make your own conclusions. And with that, I want to wish you and yours a very Happy New Year! Hope the holidays treated everyone well.
Follow me on Twitter @jakebridges03!