Iowa Football

For Iowa's NFL early entries, going for the money has been the standard, not the trend

The balance between the signing bonus on the front end and the race for the second contract

University of Iowa football player Dallas Clark (left), an all-American tight end, announces his decision to forego his senior season at Iowa and enter the NFL draft on  Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2003, at the Iowa Football Complex in Iowa City.
University of Iowa football player Dallas Clark (left), an all-American tight end, announces his decision to forego his senior season at Iowa and enter the NFL draft on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2003, at the Iowa Football Complex in Iowa City.

In the last month, the Hawkeyes have had four underclassmen declare for the NFL draft.

Sophomore tight end T.J. Hockenson was the final to announce his intentions. Monday was the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft. Hockenson won the Mackey Award this season (nation’s top TE).

Junior safety Amani Hooker, junior defensive end Anthony Nelson and, in December before Iowa’s Outback Bowl victory, junior tight end Noah Fant decided to forgo their remaining eligibility and declare for the draft.

So yeah, that’s a big haul, no getting around that. A lot of the pieces that made 2018 fun with a 9-4 record and an Outback Bowl victory over a ranked Mississippi State team have waved goodbye to chase their dreams in the NFL.

And, you know, get paid.

Is there a trend for Hawkeyes here?

After cornerback Desmond King decided to return for his senior season in 2016, Iowa has seen six players declare early. After last season, cornerback Josh Jackson and offensive lineman James Daniels went into the draft. They were selected in the second round and received contracts that totaled in the $6.5 million range.

King decided to come back to finish his degree. His NFL feedback was to work on his speed.

Did he lose money for returning to Iowa? Depends on what price you put on having a degree — which was the stated goal and absolutely the right reason, but the contract numbers point to a yes.

The Los Angeles Chargers selected King in the fifth round (151st overall). He was the 21st cornerback and the last of four Iowa players drafted in 2017.

King signed a four-year deal worth $2.7 million. His signing bonus was $280,000. King has played in every game during his two seasons in the NFL, with 12 starts. This season he had 62 tackles and three interceptions. He also returned a punt for a TD and averaged 13.8 yards on 23 returns. He was named first-team All-Pro last week.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

King won the Thorpe Award, the nation’s top defensive back in 2015. That’s not an automatic first-round ticket, so there’s some projection. Even if in the 2016 draft he would’ve climbed halfway up the ladder from where he ended up in 2017, King might’ve been looking at a $3.2 million deal and an $800,000 signing bonus (according to Spotrac.com, a site that tracks NFL salaries).

If King had come out in 2015, he would be going into the final year of his contract with All-Pro on his resume.

In December, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz noted that the push from agents is go now and get your clocking ticking for contract No. 2, which ensures the big house and a mountain of Jet Skis.

“There’s some people on the outside that really sell that, because they’ve got nothing to lose,” Ferentz said. “It’s a game for them, but we’re talking about young people’s lives, and to me there’s a real responsibility there, so we try to get good, accurate information, and I think the NFL has stepped up their game from the panel, the committee, based on what I’ve seen.”

The NFL topic came up a lot with Hockenson after he won the Mackey. He clearly was torn. There’s risk and reward, there’s also enjoying college and playing for your home state team.

“Whatever happens, I’ll love this university, I’ll love this team,” Hockenson said after making three catches for 43 yards in the Outback Bowl. “Nothing would ever change that.”

Leaving early is the trend nationwide.

Monday was the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft. On Sunday afternoon, the NFL put out a tweet that was 121 underclassmen had declared, smashing last year’s record of 106 early entries.

Can we call leaving early a “trend?” It feels more like the standard.

Let’s examine Iowa’s early entries under Ferentz.

Tight end Dallas Clark started it back in 2002. He was an older redshirt, facing turning 24 going into his senior season. He also won the Mackey Award. So, he had his reasons and it worked, earning Clark $42.6 million over 11 seasons (according to Spotrac.com).

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

Running back Shonn Greene also fell into the “24-year-old senior” category. Also, running back, by nature of the position, is a “get paid and do it now” kind of position. Greene left after the 2008 season with a year of eligibility remaining. Greene was the first player taken in the third round. He made a $900,000 signing bonus and $9.4 million in six seasons.

Offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and defensive back Amari Spievey left after the 2009 seasons. Spievey made nearly $2 million in three seasons with the Lions. In nine seasons with the Packers, Bulaga has made more than $37 million.

The late Tyler Sash fell into that 24-year-old category if he would’ve returned for his senior year in 2012, so he left early and made $919,000 in two seasons with the Giants.

Offensive tackle Riley Reiff left after 2011. He’s made almost $43 million over seven seasons in the NFL. If he returns to the Vikings next season, his career earnings will eclipse $50 million.

After last season, offensive lineman James Daniels and cornerback Josh Jackson declared. Daniels earned $3.6 million in his first season with the Bears. Jackson made $3.1 million with the Packers.

So, it’s paid off, in varying degrees, for everyone who left. The big “stayers” during the Ferentz years have to be offensive linemen Robert Gallery and Brandon Scherff and defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

Gallery and Scherff won Outland Trophies. Clayborn was declared a consensus all-American.

Gallery went to the Raiders with the second pick, which earned him an $8 million signing bonus. He made $46 million in nine seasons. Scherff was picked fifth by the Redskins and earned a $13.7 million signing bonus. He’s made $21.2 in four seasons in Washington.

As the 20th pick in the 2011 draft, Clayborn earned a $4.5 million signing bonus from Tampa Bay. He’s made $25.4 million in eight seasons.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

It’s all crazy money. The early entries are making the decisions they believe are good for them. If the front end money isn’t there, they earn it on contract No. 2. The “stayers” are betting on big awards and big interest coming out of their senior seasons and shooting at the big signing bonus.

Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson was the last pick in the first round last year. His signing bonus was nearly $5 million.

Some patterns have emerged, but the whole early entry thing remains a personal choice and certainly not an easy one. Nothing is guaranteed and after the NFL combine and pro days, it’s out of your hands.

This is about dreams.

“My dream has always been to play in the NFL, and I believe now is the right time,” Hockenson said.

“You dream of stuff like that, to get that chance and the opportunity,” Hooker said. “ ... It is humbling, it’s awesome. You work all of the time to get there. My parents have always helped me out. It’s a cool experience for everyone.”

This is about dreams. Big part of that dream is the ability to make life-changing money for you and your family.

And now it’s right there.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Want to join the conversation?

Consider subscribing to TheGazette.com and participate in discussing the important issues to our community with other Gazette subscribers.

Already a Gazette or TheGazette.com subscriber? Just login here with your account email and password.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.