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Had I Known Then: Clayton Holmes’ Parting Words for NFL Rookies

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Once a week leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft, three-time Super Bowl winner Clayton Holmes will personally explain some of the pitfalls he fell into as a player: Money problems, inability to say “no,” the gold diggers, the party culture, his own demons from childhood. As told to BC sportswriter James David Dickson. This is the final installment of the series.

This weekend the fortunes of at least 255 young men will, literally, change for the better. I just hope that some of them are a little wiser than I was back at age 22, 23. I’ve written about some of the What Ifs that still haunt me to this day, and tried to give advice to incoming NFL Rookies so they don’t look back on their careers with any regrets.

What they tell you in school as a kid is true: actions – even small ones – have consequences – sometimes big ones.

I wish each of you a long and prosperous football career. Welcome to the NFL, rook.

A Family Guy

If I knew then what I know now about keeping a family while playing in the NFL, I would have chosen to go one way or the other, at least until I established myself as a player. I wanted to have both – a beautiful wife managing my home and crazy nights out with the guys. Rookie year is like sensory overload. You’d be a fool not to take advantage.

As I’ve written before, unless you’re going to put a ring on her finger, let your college sweetheart go, now, so you can truly enjoy and truly focus on your rookie year. My failure to do that caused a lot of undue pain to someone I really loved – a great girl who, looking back, really deserved more than I could offer her. I thought that, when you become a man, you got married, and that’s just how things went.

I didn’t understand that relationships take work. They demand commitment, so you don’t just leave at the first sign of trouble. Be honest with yourself about where you are and how quickly you want to start a family. Even if you play in this League for 12 years and retire at the age of 35, you’ll still be a young man, with your whole life ahead of you.

There’s a big difference, I’ve learned, between wanting to get married and want ting to make your marriage work.

Why rush it?

Money

If I knew then what I know now about money management, I would have been sure to save anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of each paychecks. How you split it, between investments and savings, is an individual preference.

I’m sure there’s not many of you in this draft class who haven’t ever written a check before, as I hadn’t when I was at this point. But for those of you who haven’t, the second call you make, after letting Mom know that you’ve in the NFL, should be to a financial advisor who can make your money work for you.

Financial advisors say one should have at least 3 to 6 months of expenses saved in case of a rainy day, and that’s sound advice. Sure, you’re making a lot of money, but you’re making it within a very short window, and not only that – but when you’re an NFL player, you want to look like and live like an NFL player. Understandably. But, as I’ve quoted Warren Sapp in the past, every year in this League is another mouth to feed.

As the new – and, probably, only – millionaire in the family, will find yourself in the role of the “rich uncle.” When family members need root canals and emergency surgery and college tuition and security deposits, you’ll be the first one they call. And, being the good guy you are, you’ll be there to help them. The only question is, will the monies come from your “rainy day” fund, or will they come out of your game checks?

We can’t all be as lucky as the Manning brothers when it comes to landing the big endorsements. Most of us need to manage our checks wisely if we truly plan to enjoy life after football. You never – ever, ever, ever – want to need to withdraw from your NFL pension early. That won’t be necessary with sound financial planning. Ask veterans on your club who their financial guys are, or do some research yourself. Stay-at-home mothers and college students have stock portfolios nowadays, so as a millionaire you can’t afford to not be in on the game.

If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve understood that it’s not about what you make, it’s about what you keep. When an injury can end your football days in a heartbeat, you’ll see the importance of the keeping part of the equation. Outside of signing bonuses, your earnings are by no means promised. You don’t want to go to a team reunion 10 years from now and not be able to look your successful and wealthy teammates in the eye because you’ve pissed away your money.

The Game

If I knew then what I know now about the game, I would have understood that coaches only yell at guys in whom they see unrealized potential.

Rather than take things the wrong way and assume that my coaches were out to embarrass me or as part of the rookie hazing ritual, I would’ve understood that they were coming from a place of tough love, even if it was much more of the former than the latter.

I would have understood that a coach’s attention is a gift, and that when coaches aren’t coaching you, it’s probably not long before you end up seeing The Turk.

Coachability is one of the conventionally-underrated but profitable traits one can have. You don’t want a respected coach like Bill Belichick to pass on you in free agency because he heard you can’t take a little constructive criticism.

A Word on Agents

Make absolutely sure of whom you’re dealing with before you sign anything. It’s amazing how many guys will get involved with somebody – entrust their career and their earning potential to somebody – they don’t even know and haven’t even checked out.

In this Information Age, it shouldn’t be difficult at all to look the guy up and get a sense of his track record (note: agency websites are not reliable sources). Some of you, like the guys who went to USC or Miami, will know plenty of guys in the League, and will be able to get more of an inside scoop. But, chances are, regardless of where you went to school, you know somebody playing the League – even if it was somebody you played against in college. Call him up. There’s nothing like insider information when the stakes are this high.

Potential top-10 picks shouldn’t be represented by guys who’ve never had a client get picked before the fourth round. And a guy who has a roster of superstar clients might not be the guy to look at if you’re a third-rounder, because he won’t give your negotiations the attention they deserve. Never forget that, while you only have one agent, your agent probably has dozens of clients. This affects you far more than it affects him.

Is your agent always on television, demanding trades that never actually happen? Do his players tend to have long training camp holdouts and get off on the wrong foot with the organization? A big rookie contract might not mean much if you end up riding the pine because you never caught up after your holdout. For better or for worse, teams are much more likely to pay a player for what he’s already done than for future potential, so it’s crucial to produce during that first contract.

Important as it is to know your agent, make sure he knows you, too. Make sure your agent knows your biggest priority is making it to training camp on time. And make sure you’re ready to do whatever’s necessary to make that happen. Remember: as talented as you are, you haven’t actually helped the team win any games at this point.

In a League where the average career lasts a short 3 years, you can’t afford a holdout. Management just has too much power. And if you’re a real player, you won’t be able to stomach watching other guys – guys you know and have played with or competed against in college – out there making plays while you’re on your mother’s couch eating Cheetos.

Clayton Holmes is a 3-time Super Bowl winner with the 1990s Dallas Cowboys. This article was the sixth and final installment of “Clayton Holmes’ Advice to NFL Rookies.

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About James David Dickson

  • Alexandria Jackson

    Wonderful article and great advice.

  • http://www.radiocoach.biz Sam weaver

    Great advice. The off field stuff seems to do players in. It is similar to office politics, the problems usually have nothing to do with work. Hopefully, most of this years rookie crop has
    some common sense.

    Sam Weaver