There was no solar eclipse this weekend. The sun disappeared over the skies of St. Louis for a moment or two, but that was just a swarm of vultures circling overhead. Their target: Tavon Austin, the St. Louis Rams first-round pick who will be signing a $12 million NFL contract in the very near future.
Austin revealed after Friday's rookie minicamp that he had "a lot of cousins" these days. Everyone remotely connected to him from his hometown of Baltimore is eyeing his bank account.
The revelation unleashed a torrent of blog posts from the concerned mothers in the NFL media. This is how players go broke. This is how players get distracted from doing their job on the field.
It really is. General managers and agents can produce countless horror stories of a player going broke financing someone's can't miss record label or spreading crass consumerism around to even the most distant friends and family.
According to Peter King, that concern was enough to give some teams pause when it came to ranking Austin on the draft board.
... there's a reason more than one team was afraid of him entering draft weekend. Austin, from all accounts, avoided the pitfalls that have befallen lots of inner-city draftees over the years. But some around the league think acquaintances from Austin's past (he is from one of the toughest neighborhoods in the country, in Baltimore) could follow him into the NFL.
On the surface, I get why teams would have some concerns about a player's potential to get distracted by money. It's a more viable bullet point to include on a scouting report than his Wonderlic scores (which Austin was also dinged for by anonymous scouts).
Judging players on their Wonderlic scores is inherently unfair because personnel departments don't know the whole story. There could be learning disabilities. Or maybe they went to Illinois (just kidding). Teams would have a similarly difficult time understanding a player's past life, without undertaking a pretty thorough investigation ... like CIA security clearance thorough.
Giving a 22-year old kid millions of dollars is inherently risky, regardless of where he's from. I'd probably be sleeping under a bridge roughly 24 months after getting the first check.
Fortunately, the Rams are a team with some experience working with the kids today. Yes, repeat the standard line about Janoris Jenkins here, but it applies to all of the young players. The team has seminars to give players a better grasp of budgeting and learning about where their money goes. It's an expansion of what happens at the rookie symposium.
"We have more time to do it and can hit them at different points throughout the year," Rams VP Kevin Demoff told TST.
Jeff Fisher was pretty clear at the Combine this year, when asked about players in the offseason, that he'd like teams to have even more time with young players, and not just for going over the playbook.
"I've always hoped that at some point, we could get together with the Players Association and work something out," Fisher said. "We coud have our young players, our first- and second-year players, back in the building somewhere in the middle of the offseason before the program starts, not for football but for life skills."
One thing that's pretty clear from Austin's past is his dedication. He never missed a practice in college. He works hard. What the Rams do to mentor and develop young players is impressive. The real secret of their success might be instilling a tough work ethic. Let's go back to something Les Snead said when asked about Jenkins:
"He's a gym rat. Usually gym rats are successful as they mature."
If you can keep a player focused on his football career, there's a good chance that the rest will work itself out.