Best Of 2020: The Working Man's NFL Player: Life Of Free Agency (Part 1)

Brett Carlsen. Shutterstock Images.

Don't judge me because it has taken weeks to write my second blog. It's not because I'm a mentally slow football player that struggles to read, write, and spell although none of those are my fortay (literally just had to google how to spell forté). I could tell you it's because I have better things to do like play Risk with the boys on Xbox, binge watch shows like The Society and Ozark (highly recommend), watch my hairline disappear like in the Avengers movie, or because I'm busy working out for an NFL season that seems a little up in the air at this point. But the fact of the matter is that it has taken me 20 minutes just to write these first few sentences. I'm just a perfectionist that has way too many brilliantly awesome billion dollar ideas running through my head and I struggle to execute without having a plan in place and feeling like it's perfect. Then, once I write the blog, I have to get my work looked over by my fiancé since I'm very grammatically challenged. I'm like a kid in grade school that has to turn in a "rough draft" to my teacher just so she can put her red marker corrections all over my sheet of paper. 

So here we are. The topic of this blog will be my journey in free agency… but all from my perspective. This is my own reality of the situation. No one else's.

Let's start with my free agency in 2019 and we'll see what happens from there. I would write about what is going on NOW but you know the saying… "loose lips sink ships." And I have to be careful since I'm the hottest free agent on the market now that Tom Brady is off the board.

The Titans 2019 season ended (s/o Titans boys). We lost a Week 17 heartbreaker to the Indianapolis Colts to make the playoffs and my one-year deal was up. As a player, as your contract is coming to an end there's always a little anxiety that creeps in. What's next? Will they bring me back? Did I make enough plays to earn another year? Is my agent working his ass off for me? Every fucking scenario goes through your head. You never want to leave a group of guys that you enjoy, a city that you're comfortable in, and a routine that you've built. But as the saying goes, "that's business" or some shit like that. Everyone puts on the front that they don't care if they go to another team, or that "testing the market" will be fun but I think deep down every guy wants it to work out with their current team. At least for me anyway. I never wanted to leave Washington when I was there. Was I bitter about how some shit went down? No question. But I was hoping to stay a Redskin forever because that was my home, and that locker room was my family. Unfortunately, the Skins only offered me a one-year minimum and a Subway gift card (s/o Subway) compared to the Titans $1.25 milly with a signing bonus so I had to take my rare talents to the beautiful city of Nashville, Tenn.

The same thing was true with the Titans. I was hopeful to come back because I had built some great relationships and loved Nashville. However, the reality is you can't get wrapped up emotionally because it's a business over which you have no control. There's no real way to prepare for it other than going through it. That's why I fucking love the quote: "Adapt. Improvise. Overcome." because there is no way to prepare for everything and you have to be able to pivot when shit doesn't go your way.

After the last game, I cleaned out my locker which was bittersweet because even though I had some time off after a long year, I had no idea what my future held. My exit meeting with the GM, J-Rob (Jon Robinson), gave me some optimism because he had good things to say to me. He ended the meeting by saying they would want me back but still suggesting that I test the market. My interpretation: the option will be on the table but it will probably be a one-year minimum. I was actually surprised. I really didn't think there was much of a chance that I'd have the option to come back. They had Rashaan and Jayon as the future (s/o the boys), Wesley Woodyard and Daren Bates as solid backups, leaders, and Special Teams SAVAGES (s/o the boys), and there wasn't any reason to keep me as an ILB when you can draft a young LB for your fifth backer. Either way, ol' J-Rob teased me with some hope after leaving that meeting (s/o J-Rob, you smooth SOB - I respect it).

So there I am about to enter free agency again as a 29-year-old, six-year veteran coming off of two seasons as a backup and special teamer. Not the best leverage going into free agency. I knew I could still play and be an asset but I also knew that there wouldn't be much of a market for the boy. So what did I do? I handled it like any fucking wolf would. I played Red Dead Redemption 2 while contemplating my next move. I also sought a mentor in Real Estate since I enjoy learning about creating passive income. I started writing down everything surrounding how I would build my podcast and what I wanted it to look like (S/O BUSSIN WITH THE BOYS). Even though I was nervous about the unknowns of my future I knew I had to adapt, improvise, and overcome or else I'd become another athlete who struggles transitioning and digs himself into a weird mental hole. I also needed a plan for football and free agency.

I had to have a hard conversation with myself, be self aware, and look at myself objectively no matter how highly I thought of my play. I was going to be a one-year minimum guy without much of a market. What was that worth to me? If I was offered a minimum deal, would I take it and go through another offseason, putting more wear and tear on my sexy 30-year-old body just to fight to make a 53-man roster? I wasn't really into that idea now that I was older. My young NFL self would die on a hill for ball but that wasn't the case anymore. However, I knew that I would train hard and I knew that I would be ready to go at any point in the year because that's how I've thrived throughout my entire life. Being prepared or finding a way. I knew that whichever teams were doing their homework on me were aware of what I brought to the table - high IQ, can play both spots, can start if needed, special teamer, decent jokes, and an awesome podcast. It was inevitable (unfortunately) that someone would get hurt and teams always need a savvy linebacker at some point. So instead, my plan was to skip OTAs, skip as much training camp as possible, train, build Bussin' With The Boys, save my body, and hope to God that this plan B worked out. Seven teams called offering me workouts during OTAs and early training camp and we turned them down. I was low key nervous as fuck not taking those opportunities but it also felt pretty empowering saying "No thanks" to NFL teams. Lol like who in the hell do I think I am? I was sticking to the game plan and early calls made me optimistic that there would be more opportunity in August.

In the meantime, the boys were catching some traction with our podcast. Vrabel came on talking about cutting his dick off for a Super Bowl; Jalen Ramsey came on talking about "white people shit" and his trash talk on the field; Brendan Schaub came on tossing me advice on how to build the brand; Quenton Nelson came on doing Winnie the Pooh impressions; and then of course the boys just having good ol' fashioned fun giving people a glimpse into our locker room talk. This was also the point when we caught Barstool's attention (s/o the squad at Barstool). They reached out to us via DM in August to get on the phone and gauge interest in joining forces. Needless to say, I was fucking hype that the best brand on the internet was identifying the boys. At this point, I had built such a passion outside of football that I wasn't even stressing about getting picked up by a team because I was having so much fun taking the chance building something of my own. Not many people can say that they're building something they enjoy with one of their best friends (s/o the boy Taylor).

Finally the right opportunity came. The Saints called during Week 3 of the preseason after a couple of injuries hit them. The shitty thing about that situation was that it was the same day Barstool was flying into Nashville to meet with us. When a team calls about working you out they want you on the next flight because they want you on the practice field as quickly as possible. I had to buy some time because I wanted to be at that meeting with Barstool and talk about the podcast. The boy improvised… I went on my Kayak app (s/o Kayak no free shoutouts) and checked to see when the Saints would possibly fly me out next, and I waited just long enough to not make the flight. I had my agent tell them to fly me out at the ass crack of dawn and I'd be ready to go. Fortunately, I was able to meet with Barstool that night (s/o Erika and Gaz), build that relationship, then go home and pack - essentially preparing to not come back home because I planned on crushing my workout and signing with the Saints. 

Fast forward. The workout they put me through lasted about 15 minutes and was nonstop. This was my first sort "tryout" that I've had to do up until this point. I was by myself, too. No other players were there to help give me a break in between reps; it was all about that piss and vinegar mentality while I worked out in front of what felt like every important swingin' dick in that organization. I had to focus on my breath and not let the moment break my conditioning. Water breaks were offered but I felt like they were for pussies even though I wanted to take them so bad. I had to prove to them that I was in shape and ready to go. I was out of breath like a mf'er afterward when the defensive coordinator, Coach Allen (s/o Coach Allen), walked up to me as I was panting like a dog and asked, "Are you in shape?" To which I responded, "Yes sir. I know I'm out of breath right now [subtle humor in my voice] but I'm ready to roll." He then asked, "Which spot do you feel most comfortable at?" and I said, "Either one. I can play both." He finished with, "Alright well I'm going to get with Coach Payton and we will let you know," and walked off. Just like that. No more than 30 words to me then left like a season finale cliffhanger on Netflix.

I headed back to the locker room low-key excited as hell because I felt good about my performance. The scout brought me back to where I was changing and told me to sit tight, that my workout went really well, and that they wanted to get with my agent to offer me a contract. They just needed the green light from the head man in charge. The boy was on cloud nine! I was also anxious about living in another city (probably in a hotel life or small apartment) for the next five or six months - which sucks. I would have to leave my Nashville life with my girlfriend there, the podcast growing, and other dope shit I was getting excited about… it would all have to be put on pause while I went to make a Super Bowl run with the boys in black and gold, and make about $900K (weird flex). Tough life, I know. But plans changed pretty quickly. Adapt. Improvise. Overcome.

This was my first time joining a team in the middle of the year. I was used to being with a team for an entire offseason to build camaraderie with the boys. One of my strengths has always been getting involved with the culture and helping build team chemistry. When you're with a team for an entire offseason, guys know what you're about and what you bring to the table. You've been through the dog days with them, you've put in the sweat equity, the time, and grinded in the classroom with them. Respect levels are different. New guys are always welcomed in with open arms but all eyes are on you to see if you belong in that culture. When you come in midseason, you feel like you have to make up for lost time and show the boys that you're ready to put your head down and work your ass off for them.

I know I was only with the Saints for like 10 minutes but I was there long enough to know that the culture they had was rare. The communication from top to bottom, the work everyone put in, the enthusiasm guys had, the player leadership, and the accountability in the locker room doesn't just happen with the snap of your fingers. I understood quickly why they've been one of the best franchises in recent history. Even the guy who had gotten injured that I was there to replace, Craig Robertson (s/o Craig!), led me the day I walked in. You don't fucking see that! I had respected and watched his play for years and thought highly of him. He was the Special Teams Captain and one of the obvious leaders in the locker room, and the minute I arrived, I understood why.

My dude was playing basketball on one of those tiny hoops that is in every single sports team locker room. Dudes SWEAR they'd be in the NBA if they weren't playing in the NFL. NFL locker rooms argue more about what's going on in the NBA and their own jump shot more than anything, holy shit. But that's a different blog. Back to what I was saying… my guy Craig walks straight up to me, introduces himself, and tells me, "I'm happy you're here, bro. I hope you ball the fuck out." He doesn't know this but from that moment I felt relieved and free to go do my thing. That sounds ridiculous because that's what I planned on doing anyways, but now I didn't feel like it was me coming into a place I didn't belong. I had found a new wolfpack. My wolfpack grew to two people, and it was with the guy I was most curious about since we were in direct competition. 

I learned the ropes pretty quickly thanks to my linebacker room (s/o the LBs) and specifically Coach Hodges (s/o Coach Hodges). I had to learn the playbook FAST since we only had two days until we played the Jets in preseason Game 3. I don't want to toot my own horn but I'm SAVVY with the Xs and Os and this was going to be a cool opportunity to show that I could learn the playbook fast and be ready to play in 48 hours. Sure enough, they threw me in the fire during the fourth quarter after only having classroom meetings, a couple walk-throughs, and like six total reps in practice. The boy got five tackles and a SOLID open field tackle in a two minute drill, which probably stood out to them because who knows how well this fellow try-hard (me) was graded in open field tackling. I impressed them enough to move up and start preparing to be the starting BASE middle backer for Week 1 until the boy Thor (Alex Anzalone) was healthy enough to come back and take over (s/o Thor). I was stoked about my fast progress. Unfortunately, that all changed within a few days when my ass got injured.

First quarter of the final preseason game: I was out there with the boys defending a decent lil' drive by the Dolphins. Not to toot my own horn again but the play I got injured on was a career all-timer. It was I-Slot and the Dolphin boys ran a stretch-lead to the TE… so I, being gritty as hell, diagnosed and pulled my trigger as hard as my little white ass could. I ran THROUGH the left tackle (I hope he reads this), took on the fullback (he didn't see me but he should've), and got my hands on a nice lil' tackle for loss. The left tackle I ran through? His big ass fell on my ankle and I felt the ol' boy pop right away. I knew immediately I had some sort of pussy ankle sprain that was coming at the worst time. I knew that if I had to miss ANY time for this sprain then I would be cut - they needed a LB for Week 1 since they had two other guys on the roster who were nursing injuries.

Sure enough, I had an acute grade II low ankle sprain (I have to say grade II because real pussies miss time for grade I and I need to save my dignity). That was going to keep me out for at least two weeks. I knew right then that my run with the black and gold was going to come to an end. And sure enough, I was icing my ankle and there it was on ESPN… the Saints traded for Kiko Alonso, another middle linebacker. I saw it coming but then it was real. I was released on an injury settlement and back to the drawing board I went. I had to nurse my ankle back to full health before a team could pick me up. The good news was that I got paid a little from the settlement and that several teams called immediately following my release. It was all on me to get healthy, control what I could control, and go back to building Bussin' With The Boys while I waited. 

Adapt. Improvise. Overcome.

My next football blog will be about chilling on the couch until the Raiders called and my time in Oakland! Let me know if you enjoyed this blog and comment other topics you might want to hear about. If you did enjoy, maybe give the ol' boy a share on social media. Here's where you can SUBSCRIBE to our podcast -----> Bussin' With The Boys on Apple Podcasts

Love you,