Alabama Football: Who is staying, who is going and who is playing

There is a frenzy among Alabama football fans. It is not the usual Playoff fever of five Decembers. It is who decides what and when.

It is crazy in Tuscaloosa and for that matter, all throughout Alabama football fandom. Instead of normal pre-holiday Playoff frenzy, there are new fixations. Every Alabama football fan wants to know – and wants to know now – who is staying, who is going and who is playing.

The ‘who is playing’ part is the least on the ‘want to know’ list. Alabama football fans want the Crimson Tide to take down Michigan. A face-slap to Harbaugh would be fun and no one wants the season to end with a loss. But …

If a Citrus Bowl win is cake icing, the other two ‘want to know now’ are red-meat passions. Will Tua return? If he does, can he practice by next August? Will a healthy Tua play in September? How many other juniors will bypass, NFL early entry to return with Tua? Might Dylan Moses or Henry Ruggs III or Alex Leatherwood or Jedrick Wills or Xavier McKinney (or others) return?

Despite an avalanche of digitally shared opinions, what is known is little.

My individual opinions will not be shared in this post. Perhaps later, although I do not claim access to inside scoop. In reality, the group of people with known facts about a player is always small. A few at most, often less. Plus, major decisions swing back and forth until a final commitment mandates action.

What’s happening in Tuscaloosa

Let’s talk about what is happening in Tuscaloosa. Tua and more than a few guys have hard decisions about NFL early-entry. Hopefully, all of them will receive solid draft-grade feedback from either the NFL College Advisory Committee or other NFL sources solicited by Nick Saban.

The Advisory Committee takes requests only from schools and provides draft grades in advance of the Jan. 20 deadline date. A maximum of five per school is allowed. A school may petition for more. Nick Saban will have more than five provided to players. If necessary, Saban has a broad network of NFL scouts willing to supply players with solid information.

Nick Saban encourages most guys with first-round grades to make the move. He also believes almost every player not receiving a first or second-round grade would benefit by another season of college play. The process never plays out so simply. When it doesn’t, Saban questions why,

we have guys that have no draft grades, seventh-round grades, free-agent grades, fifth-round grades that are going out for the draft. And the person that loses in that is the player.

Sometimes, through no fault or mistaken judgment by anyone, the decision process yields no clear answer. Tua Tagovailoa is an example, but he is not unique. Injuries and recoveries have to be weighed. Player and family financial considerations must be made. There is no decision formula that serves every player.

Two stats of note from Chase Goodbread of

  • In the 2018 Draft, 35 percent of the eligible underclassmen were not drafted.
  • In the 2019 Draft, 29 percent were not drafted.

In the case of Tua, staying out of the 2020 Draft might result in millions more dollars in 2021. That is if he fully recovers from the hip injury and does not incur another serious injury. Late first-round money and early first-round money can vary by up to $15 million. For example, last season Quinnen Williams as the No. 3 pick received a $21.5 million signing bonus. Keep in mind in the rookie contracts almost all the guaranteed money comes from the signing bonus. Josh Jacobs as the No. 24 pick received a $6.8 million signing bonus.

Yes, $6.8M is a lot of money. But not so much compared to $21.5 million. The risk for Tua is ‘double-edged.’ One edge is he chooses early-entry and drops to a late first-round (or maybe even second-round) pick. The opposite edge is he skips the 2020 Draft, fully recovers and plays for the Tide sometime in 2020 – and has another serious injury. The ‘double-edged’ dilemma cannot be avoided – unless he skips the 2020 Draft while recovering and rehabbing in Tuscaloosa and does not play for the Tide in 2020.

Next: Top projected 2020 Tide early enrollees

What will happen and when? I don’t know. Whatever happens, I hope it works out well for Tua and all the other guys.


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