Debate This is a recurring series on HerLoyalSons in which two writers take opposing sides on a hot topic. Today and tomorrow, we will debate whether or not Jaylon Smith should have played in the Fiesta Bowl. Yesterday, IrishJimmy led us through the “he should have skipped it” argument. Today, andrewwinn takes the other side.
Jaylon Smith was right to play in the Fiesta Bowl because it’s what he wanted to do, because devastating injuries can happen at any time and because playing tentative or afraid won’t make him a great football player.
JAYLON SMITH WANTED TO PLAY
Smith, the former Irish linebacker, said he had zero regrets about playing in the Fiesta Bowl, during which he suffered a torn ACL and LCL.
“Even if I had a chance to go back, I would play in the bowl game again. You’re playing in the Fiesta Bowl, first time in my life, against a great team in Ohio State. I would never want to let my teammates down, and no regrets.”
The junior continued to assert that he was not troubled by the decision, even days prior to the draft. Smith told the Chicago Tribune:
“It’s just understanding that everyone is dealt their own hand and just dealing with that. I don’t want people to be sad for me or mad, because I’m not sad for myself. I look at it as an opportunity for growth.”
Smith doesn’t even blame Taylor Decker, the Ohio State offensive lineman who shoved him before the injury. Decker, the Lions’ first round draft pick, told the Detroit Free Press:
“Football is a physical, violent game. I just wanted to reach out to him and wish him all the best. And he told me right back, he’s like, ‘No hard feelings at all.’ So I think that was really mature of him.”
Coming into the Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame and Ohio State had 19 individuals on their roster that would go on to be drafted by NFL teams. Imagine if Ohio State’s five first round draft picks and Notre Dame’s two first rounders refused to play to protect their draft stock. The fans would lose out, but their teammates would too. There’s no worry about who wins the matchup between wide receiver Will Fuller or cornerback Eli Apple – both would be sitting. Ditto for offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and defensive end Joey Bosa. (Because of Bosa’s ejection, this isn’t a perfect example.)
Setting aside the question of whether players should be paid, they are being compensated. There’s an exchange that takes place: The school offers a full scholarship and the player offers his time and talent when healthy. Jaylon Smith was healthy and in a position to help his team win a game. He took that commitment to the team seriously, and he played when asked. Coaches aren’t offering scholarships to guys who want to play until their team is out of championship contention. They expect their players to give full effort until the end. Frankly, it would undermine the entire system if players decided to unilaterally pick and choose which games to participate in to protect their draft status. It would be less about team and more about the individual. Jaylon Smith isn’t wired that way. He cares about his teammates. The game had meaning to him because it was an opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his teammates on one of the biggest stages against an elite team and to find a way to win.
SMITH’S PAYOUTS ARE RICH ENOUGH
The injury may have cost him up to $21.4 million, and this 20-year-old said he still would have played. So let’s talk about the money.
Smith purchased a loss-of-value insurance policy for $50,000 that paid out up to $5 million if he suffered an injury and fell out of the first round. It’s the sort of policy that’s a wise investment for any highly valued player and, in Smith’s case, a necessary one. The policy will pay out $900,000 – which is tax free, so the true value is closer to $1.7 million.
It’s complete speculation that an uninjured Smith would have gone first overall, especially considering the Rams and Eagles traded up to get a quarterback. The Chicago Bears took the first linebacker with the 9th overall pick.
Let’s compare former Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd’s new contract with Jaylon Smith’s.
Floyd will receive $15,782,861, all guaranteed. He’ll pay an estimated $2.2 million in taxes in 2017 and, assuming a 3 percent fee, his agent will take home about $473,480. That leaves Floyd with about $13 million before 2018 taxes are due.
Smith will receive $6,494,970 plus the $900,000 insurance payout, for a total of $7.4 million. He’ll pay an estimated $877,534 in 2017 taxes and send $87,708 to his agent. That leaves Smith with about $5.5 million before 2018 taxes are due.
Is there a big difference between $5.5 million and $13 million? With prudent investing, both could take care of you for a lifetime.
If Smith never plays another down of football in his life, that $5.5 million and (presumably forthcoming) college degree from Notre Dame could ensure financial stability until his death. (The average American male with a bachelor’s degree can expect to make $2.1 million during his lifetime.)
If he does play, Smith has the opportunity to make tens of millions more in a second contract. This injury didn’t take away his ability to provide for himself and his family; it limited his ability to buy a yacht and a private jet simultaneously.
DEVASTATING INJURIES CAN HAPPEN AT ANY TIME
Bart Hubbach, a NY Post columnist, recently criticized Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly for not forcing Smith to sit.
“Sometimes kids need to be protected from themselves. Kelly and other head coaches need to be the adults in the room,” tweeted Hubbach.
That would be an impossible line to draw. If Notre Dame had lost two or three games early in its season – removing all legitimate hope for a national title – should Kelly sit Smith to protect him from himself? In those “way too early” mock drafts, Smith was a top 25 pick or even top 10 pick before the 2015 season even kicked off. Certainly, that’s higher than he went after the injury. Should he have sat the entire season? Of course not.
Season-ending or career-altering injuries can come at any time. Mike McGlinchey finishes a block on Joe Schmidt during summer practice before the 2015 season, and Schmidt takes out Jarron Jones’ knee. Jones was lost for the season
In the first game of the 2015 season, running back Tarean Folston made a series of nifty moves. Fourteen yards later, he was down…with a torn ACL. In the second game, quarterback Malik Zaire runs a draw play. His ankle is trapped underneath a defender, who is tackling him. Zaire suffers a fractured ankle and is lost for the season. In the third game, Drue Tranquill breaks up a pass in the end zone and celebrates by doing a butt-bump with Schmidt. Tranquill lands on the knee awkwardly and tears an ACL. He’s lost for the season.
Like Jones, Folston and Zaire, Smith was just unlucky. Freak season-ending injuries were a too-common part of Notre Dame’s 2015 season.
AFRAID AIN’T A GOOD LOOK
In a recent interview on SportsBeat 960, Draft Countdown’s Scott Wright said there would “most likely” be negative repercussions for any college player who skipped a bowl game for fear of injury.
“No question. NFL people want to see guys compete and get out there on the field, even though you can make a very good argument that it’s in their best interests to sit it out. Teams would not like that. But ultimately – at the end of the day – what it comes down to are: Hhow talented are you? If you’re a Jaylon Smith-level talent and you skip that bowl game, maybe it would have dropped him a few spots. But I still think he would have gone in the top 10 overall. I think it’s something that players are going to start asking themselves more and more as the years pass. I guarantee you the NFL people would not like it at all and they would have a lot of harsh words for them.”
Smith was asked about being afraid that he would never recover from his injury. “I don’t have time to be afraid,” he told the NFL Network. “I don’t have any time to be afraid. For me, it’s just about putting the work in, controlling what you can control.”
Playing scared is also contrary to Smith’s style of play.
Ty Hunt, the coach at Cardinal Ritter High School in Indianapolis, recalled a moment when his team played Smith’s in the Indiana Class 2A state championship.
‘‘They had a third-and-five, and they gave him the ball to the outside,’’ Hunt said. ‘‘I have a DB who’s going to an NAIA school. He’s 6-1 and came off a block and went to get him, and Jaylon hurdled him like he wasn’t there. It was pretty impressive.’’
Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Potash picked up the story from there.
“Smith actually was penalized for hurdling on that play. But it’s that kind of aggressiveness that Notre Dame wants, no matter where Smith plays. Coaches tried to recruit Smith as a running back — he rushed for 1,625 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior — but the kid rather would hit than be hit and insisted on playing defense.”
In a February 2013 scouting report, FoxSports.com Director of Scouting Scott Kennedy raved about Smith in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette:
”When you speak about players like this, you use a lot of superlatives, because he is one of the top five players in the country in a nation of a million football players. If you are trying to pick him apart, where is his weakness? He can play safety for God’s sake. He’s great in coverage. He’s got flexible hips. He’s got long arms. He’s aggressive. He’s not afraid to go up and smack people. He’s so instinctive that he plays all over the field, so he has a very good feel for the game on what the offense and defense is trying to do. On top of that, he’s a great kid.”