What if your employer handed you a check for $5,973,736?
First, you would probably be amazed to see a document that included your name, a dollar sign and two commas. Then, you would likely feel a huge responsibility to make sure you proved worthy of that kind of financial commitment.
Isaiah Wilson, a first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans, didn’t see it that way. Just two years after receiving that signing bonus in addition to a $1.1 million annual salary and $11.4 million guaranteed contract, Wilson is out of the NFL. The Titans gave up on the massive offensive lineman and shipped him to the Miami Dolphins earlier this month. Now the Dolphins have decided to cut their losses without ever seeing Wilson in a practice much less a game.
Jim Nagy, executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, made his professional reputation as a college scout for multiple NFL teams, including the super-successful New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. Nagy told me during our “Inside the Senior Bowl” radio show one of the key jobs of a scout is to find out if a player loves the game.
“Some professional players don’t love football. Some don’t even like it,” Nagy said. “In some cases, a guy gets put in football at a young age and he’s good at it, so he keeps playing. Some guys love the game but then their priorities change once they get that big paycheck in the NFL.”
From a distance, there is no way to know for sure, but the evidence indicates Wilson never prioritized the game.
Just a little background on Wilson. He grew up in Brooklyn but was a longtime commit to Nick Saban and Alabama. Here was his explanation for why he decided to de-commit:
“Nick Saban didn’t give me a hug, so I de-committed,” Wilson said on a podcast. “I care about the little things. I committed and I was thinking, cool. I was thinking in my head, I just committed. This is now my coach. You know what I mean? I was hoping to get one [a hug]. I put my arms out.”
That perceived slight was enough to change Wilson’s decision about his future. But it didn’t stop there. Michigan and head coach Jim Harbaugh were the next to not meet his standards.
“Remember when they first got the deal with Jordan [the brand]?” Wilson said. “He just wouldn’t take off his cleats and like, he came to my home visit with cleats on the feet and I have hardwood floors. He’s just walking around with cleats, bro.”
So that eliminated the Wolverines and left Georgia as the last school standing.
After a redshirt year, Wilson played well for two seasons for the Bulldogs then jumped to the NFL.
But quickly the Titans realized they may have made a mistake with their first-round pick.
Just before giving up on Wilson, Titans general manager Jon Robinson said, “He is going to have to make a determination on if he wants to do everything necessary to play pro football. And that is going to be on him. I know what the expectation level is here, and it’s no different than any other player on the football team. We have a certain standard that we want players to prepare and perform at professionally, and as people, and there’s a lot of work to be done there.”
Wilson’s immediate response was to post a tweet that read, “I am done playing football as a Titan … no further comments.”
Most recently, Wilson was arrested in Georgia when his Dodge Charger recorded a speed of 123 mph. After a police chase that reached 140 mph, Wilson crashed.
He was charged with felony fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, speeding in a construction zone, reckless driving, reckless conduct, possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana and possession and use of drug-related objects.
People in all walks of life make incredibly bad decisions and end up on the wrong side of the law. But not all of them are given a signing bonus of almost $6 million before they decide whether they want to live within the law or the workplace standards of their employer.
Money doesn’t solve all problems. In some cases, it simply allows a person to do exactly as he pleases every minute of every day. For a person who doesn’t love the hard work and dedication that comes with being a professional, the money can reveal what should have been obvious all along.
Just because a person is talented in a certain arena doesn’t mean they have the commitment to realize that potential.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart app.
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