It's happened again.
A professional athlete is seeking redemption. Only this time, the specific athlete has yet to enter the NFL.
In the case of Terrelle Pryor, the star crossed former Ohio State quarterback has already enjoyed the spoils of playing big-time football at the collegiate level. Pryor's Ohio State haul included receiving tattoos in exchange for autographed goods, while also collecting a small fleet of expensive cars. Of course, this story is nothing new as college athletes and "improper" gifts go together like Scarlett and Grey in this particular case and universities, boosters and BCS television money in every other.
Likewise, what has occurred since Pryor's exodus from official collegiate status is a narrative that has been told before – or at least spun, woven and cut until a new meaning is made.
The first step in Pryor's NFL journey came during a press conference last week, in which super-agent Drew Rosenhaus re-branded his newest product as a unique investment opportunity for teams seeking additional help through the league's supplemental draft.
"When there is a supplemental draft, look for him to go early. Right now, people can say what they want. We both have something to prove. There's no doubt. I believe in this young man. He's going to be a real asset to the National Football League."
Perhaps Pryor's experience in trading away assets has prepared him for the likes of Rosenhaus – who is clearly salivating at the opportunity to take his cut of a new player contract. Much like the players he represents, Rosenhaus has taken a financial hit during the locked-out offseason. With no labor agreement in place, there is no free agent movement and hence, no percentages of new player contracts heading Rosenhaus' way.
In landing Pryor, Rosenhaus is making a smart bet. While Pryor may be considered damaged goods to some, it's likely that some team will take a flyer on the former Buckeye quarterback. One modest-sized rookie contract later and Rosenhaus – clearly the best agent in sports – will come out ahead.
Of course, it helps to have friends in high places.
"In Cleveland, Pryor would work with two quarterback gurus -- Browns president Mike Holmgren and head coach Pat Shurmur. The pair developed NFL quarterbacks such as Brett Favre, Matt Hasselbeck, Donovan McNabb and Sam Bradford, just to name a few. Like many observers, I have doubts about Pryor at quarterback in the NFL. But I like his chances a lot better working with Holmgren and Shurmur.
At best, Pryor turns out to be a viable starting quarterback in the NFL. Otherwise, Pryor could try his talents at wide receiver. Oh, by the way, the Browns need help there, too. They have arguably the league's worst group of receivers.
Holmgren said after the draft that his only regret was that Cleveland didn't select a developmental quarterback in the later rounds."
In Walker's defense, this has been a difficult offseason for any football writer to produce compelling material. Simply put, nothing much outside of a courtroom has occurred. However, in linking Pryor to Cleveland, Walker is doing little more than sending smoke down the pipeline between Columbus and Cleveland.
For years now, Browns fans doubling as Buckeye supporters have used OSU as an exclusive NFL recruiting source. The likes of Joe Germaine, Craig Krenzel, Michael Wiley and Joe Montgomery have all been cited as fixes to the Browns' expansion malaise. The same could be said for Troy Smith, Brian Hartline, Kurt Coleman and Quinn Pitcock. While all of the above players enjoyed quality collegiate careers, these names present compelling testimony as to why most league scouts travel outside of their given comfort and time zones.
Of course, Walker struck a nerve as most Cleveland media sites ran his story, which generated some impressive page views and fan discussion. After all, Pryor the athlete remains an intriguing story. Perhaps the ultra-talented, but half-finished college product could become a legitimate NFL quarterback or wide receiver. But then again, someday Ted Ginn, Jr. could realize these same projections.
Yet, in my view, the bigger story remains the perception of Pryor as shown through various media outlets. Pryor's past is considered scandalous, as his actions are being framed within the context of Jim Tressel's Columbus departure. Certainly, Pryor took advantage of his status as a big-time college athlete and in a sense, his actions ultimately cost Tressel his job.
However, laying the blame squarely on Pryor is mind-numbingly naïve. While not exactly a victim – especially considering his somewhat lavish lifestyle – Pryor was simply caught up in the broken NCAA system. Somehow we're supposed to pass judgment on college athletes who try to cash in on their own celebrity – while universities are getting Bernie Madoff-rich by feasting off the spoils that these same players create.
Yet, Pryor has become the fall guy for the actual fall guy in Tressel. By clumsily handling some incriminating emails, Tressel painted himself into a corner that will ultimately set back the OSU football program. Of course, it's hard to tarnish an image as sterling as Tressel's – who by all accounts, has been considered a "good guy" going back to his days at Youngstown State. Yet, much like Pryor, Tressel was operating within the same confines of a system that is completely removed from any nostalgic tinge of academics or amateurs playing for "the love of the game."
So now Pryor has to practice the quintessential 21st century American media art of reinventing himself – something that Rosenhaus holds a virtual doctorate in.
"I hope that the people at Ohio State will embrace him in the future, will forgive him and will give him an opportunity to come back. He said to me, 'Drew, I'm going to be a Buckeye for life.'"
Small steps first.
The American media cycle dictates that a "flawed" player will undergo several months of damaging critiques, before being elevated back into the good graces of an aging and increasingly skeptical public. Based on last week's press conference, Pryor is just beginning this journey. However, in time Pryor's image will be restored – at least to the origin of whatever it was before.
Again, there is only so much to write about and often, "character profiles" are cheap, entertaining filler that agents are only too happy to promote. After all, who doesn't love a good redemption story? And with the background and lifestyles of 21st century athletes so strikingly different than the experiences and values of most fans, enterprising writers will always have volumes of material at their disposal.
On this point, let's go beyond the "cleaning" metaphor and call this for what it is. Players are continually being "sanitized" for an audience who has little connection to the realities of contemporary sports and the athletes who represent them.
Which makes the following rather unique.
"It just saddens me that people still think that way. This is a kid that just needs a little bit more fine-tuning, he needs to be coached a little bit better, but he's got all the skill set in order to be a great quarterback and I just don't understand why we still have all that narrow-minded thinking when it comes to great athletes like a Terrelle Pryor, like a Cam Newton, or anyone else that has great athletic ability. African-American quarterbacks get penalized because of their athleticism sometimes."
Moon is correct on a few points, but I can't help to think that he truly wants to say something far more honest. While the former Oiler quarterback certainly holds a legitimate frame of reference in this discussion, his use of the term "athlete" could point more to the idea that some coaches are wary of taking on a player who may not bend exactly into a given system.
As for the racial component of Moon's comments, obviously such sentiments still exist. Much like fans, many coaches are removed from the backgrounds of some players. However, these factors are often complicated by the massive investments made by franchises towards players. In this sense, covering one's bases is the most rational action to take. And besides, if all works out for the best, a franchise will improve and some writer somewhere will have a terrific redemption story to write.
The Naked Truth
For the most part, Moon is right. But here's the thing – on the field, Pryor isn't that good.
It's easy to become intrigued with Pryor, simply because of his proximity to Cleveland. Pryor's OSU ties have raised his profile around these parts for the past few seasons, but the stark realization is that we're focusing on a player who is far from a finished product. Just the mere fact that Pryor did not declare for the regular NFL draft speaks volumes regarding his progression as either a quarterback or wide receiver. Despite what Rosenhaus is selling, Pryor's status as a "supplemental" pick should be taken literally – as in the league's extra draft often features players who at best would have been 5th to 6th round choices in April.
As for Pryor's value, it wouldn't have been difficult to see him drafted in such a round back in April. Pryor certainly has talent and possesses some great size for a quarterback. However, Pryor's passing touch and accuracy are similar to those of former Brown Derek Anderson. Pryor's passes often had a lofty arc to them – almost to the point of floating away like a stadium beach ball. Mobility wise, Pryor can certainly run, but was oddly statue-esque when he remained in the pocket. There are some serious footwork concerns with Pryor, which should be a major red flag when it comes to playing within a shrunken NFL pocket.
Pryor's greatest asset heading into the NFL is his unique blend of size and speed. However, a critical eye would suggest that Pryor's size advantage would be neutralized in the NFL. As for his sometimes blazing speed, I never caught the impression that Pryor ever operated at a top level in college. At times, Pryor seemed to coast – perhaps as a result of the long strides he took as a runner, which were reflective of his larger body frame.
This last point is significant as it relates to the idea of Pryor becoming an NFL wide receiver. Unless his game is radically altered at the next level, it's hard to imagine Pryor becoming a quality wide receiver. Pryor exhibits a sort of "wind-up" mechanical feel that most likely would not translate to the quick timing routes found in today's NFL. In this sense, Pryor seems to be more of a long-distance runner than an NFL sprinter.
But of course, we're still talking about a quarterback – which will always be the most precious commodity in the NFL. Despite some of Pryor's on-field shortcomings, taking a 5th round flier on a project quarterback is fairly reasonable for any team. In the Browns' case, there could certainly be a spot available on the roster, at least if veteran Jake Delhomme and his hefty contract are not retained.
Ideally – as Walker states – Pryor could become Mike Holmgren's Idle Hands project for the next couple seasons, while Colt McCoy tries to assume the role of franchise leader. However, it's more than possible that Pryor simply becomes the victim of broken collegiate athletics, his own unique talents or both.
And what a story that would be.