The answers are never easy at the NFL combine. The nervous prospect. who’s happy as hell just to be invited, takes questions from a passel of reporters.
It mostly boils down to a camera crew from an NFL team pushing its way to the front, asking the prospect if they’ve heard from the team they represent. No? They push their way out and move on to the next.
It goes on like this for 20 minutes.
There’s very little “real” here. This is the stage where agents and whatever reps don’t want their clients creating problems for themselves. So, the answers have been through a car wash and then a washing machine, one of those industrial ones that gets concrete out of your breeches, before they get air dried behind a jet engine.
In other words, it’s mostly PR with some OK football info trickling out.
One question almost got Tristan Wirfs. It was a question about being the No. 1 O-lineman selected.
“I don’t even know how to say it, but I’m really ready to go, jump and run and show what I can do,” Wirfs said. Of course, he then went into Lucas Oil Stadium and won the football Olympics. He broke the vertical leap record for O-linemen with 36.5 inches and tied the broad jump record of 10 feet, 1 inch. He also ran a 4.85-second 40-yard dash.
The follow-up question was why does it matter to you, you know, being the best O-line athlete at the combine?
“I think kind of the competitive aspect of it being, you want to be the best,” Wirfs said. “Second is the first loser, so I want to be the first tackle taken. I want to be on show everybody that I can be the most athletic. I’m excited. I’m just ready to go.”
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It’s time to put a price tag on things. Yes, that might seem a little unseemly, but this is the leap from college to paid football. If you’re lucky, work hard and all of that, you get to have a story written about how much potential money you could make.
What’s the No. 1 overall O-lineman worth?
In the 2019 draft, Alabama’s Jonah Williams was the first OL picked. He went to the Bengals at No. 11. His four-year deal is worth $17.6 million and his signing bonus was $10.8 million, according to Spotrac.com, a site that tracks salaries across all major professional sports.
Washington State tackle Andre Dillard was the next OT to go, selected by Philadelphia at No. 22. His contract was $12.3 million with a $7 million signing bonus. Alabama State’s Tytus Howard went No. 23 to the Texas with contract numbers at $12.2 million and $6.9 million. Washington’s Kaleb McGary was the last OL taken in the first round last year, going No. 31 with contract numbers at $10.2 million and $1.8 million.
So, No. 1 is worth around $5 million of contract money and almost $4 million in signing bonus (money players take home for signing the deal).
That’s probably part of the reason why Wirfs was motivated to figuratively jump out of Lucas Oil Stadium.
NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah has Wirfs as his No. 1 offensive tackle, going No. 4 to the New York Giants. After Wirfs, Jeremiah has Alabama’s Jedrick Wills at No. 8 to Arizona, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton No. 9 to Jacksonville and Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas going No. 14 to Tampa Bay.
“Tristan Wirfs, when I first watched him, I thought he was going to be a guard, just because he has some issues oversetting,” Jeremiah said. “He got beat on a bunch of up-and-under moves, which worried me and concerned me a little bit, but I thought he got better as the year went along.
“And then obviously the show that he put on at the combine, you see the athleticism there, and you say, OK, he’s got the ability to play better at tackle. That’s where I moved him back out, kept him at tackle. He’s somebody who can really move people in the run game. But he’s just got to be a little bit more patient in pass protection and continue to work in developing that area, but again, he’s somebody with tremendous upside.”
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You don’t get here hoping and praying for a payday. Of course, there’s the work that goes into it and the competitiveness that comes organically out of that.
But the rewards, they’re nice, too.
A few meaningful questions slipped through the “which teams are you talking to” in Indianapolis. One was about Wirfs helping out his mom, Sarah, and the family. Tristan said his sister, Kaylia, is headed to Wartburg College next year. He also said he can’t imagine his mom not working.
“I don’t know if she would just stop working,” Wirfs said. “But growing up, I’d see her on the phone with their sister, she cried about stuff like maybe bills, because she had to buy me a new baseball bat and buy me a baseball glove, cleats, something like that.
“As a kid, you don’t notice that. But as I got older, I figured it out. And I’m like, why would I make that go to waste? It kind of like motivates me, I’m like, I’m going to do my best, do my best that I can in every sport just to make it worth it, worth buying me that thing.
“She’s definitely been a big part of motivation for me. I love her more than she knows and hopefully I get to pay that back to her someday. It would mean a lot.”
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