Thanks to Nick Saban, I am now taking a special interest in the career of Jacksonville Jaguars safety Ronnie Harrison.
Drafted in the third round by the Jaguars, he won a starting job during the season last year and started eight games.
Even though he was sidelined with a knee injury the final two games of the year, he will enter the upcoming season as a starter and seems to have a bright future.
That is why it was so puzzling when the Alabama coach singled him out when he went on a rant earlier this month decrying underclassmen for declaring early for the NFL draft.
“If you’re a third-round draft pick, and we had one here last year – I’m not going to say any names — goes and starts for his team so he’s making third-round money, which is not that great,” Saban said. “He’d be the first guy taken at his position this year, probably, and makes $15 to $18 million more.”
The only third rounder to come out of Alabama last year was Harrison, so it is obvious which player he is referring to.
Saban overlooks a couple of things. There is no guarantee Harrison would have improved his draft stock with another year at Alabama. And he could have fallen if he’d gotten injured.
And the biggest thing is he will now be a free agent after the 2021 season instead of the 2022 season if he had stayed in college.
Harrison tweeted in reply, “Coaches get so butt hurt now days about a kid making a decision to live out his dreams and go pro. Makes me think do you really care about the success of the kid or how well your program performs.”
It is almost unheard of for a former Alabama player to take a shot at Saban, but Saban deserved it.
And Harrison got a $803,032 signing bonus plus $473,118 last year. At Alabama, his salary would have been zero. He will make $3.3 million over four years and then be eligible to be a free agent.
Granted, former Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick got a $16.4 million deal for being the 11th pick in the draft, but there is no guarantee Harrison would have been picked that high if he had waited a year.
Saban also pointed out that 25 percent of the underclassmen don’t get drafted and another 25 percent are out of the league in three years.
He said they have players that have no draft grades, seventh-round grades, free-agent grades and fifth-round grades coming out early.
“And the person that loses is the player,” Saban said, ignoring the fact that what he really cares about is Alabama loses the player a year early.
And what are the odds that a projected seventh-round player is going to skyrocket up the draft board with an extra year?
He also overlooks one obvious solution. The colleges would have a better chance to keep the players if they paid them.
And why should future NFL players have to go to college in the first place? The system is rigged to help the schools, not the players, and the NFL goes along with it and bans players until they are out of high school for three years because they get a free farm system.
Saban’s hypocrisy is amazing.
And some of these players may need to get a job if they don’t make it in the NFL to earn money if they come from difficult backgrounds instead of returning to school and not making any money for another year.
Saban did mention that six or seven players moved from second- or third-round grades to top-15 picks by staying in school, although he didn’t name them. And who knows for sure where they would have been drafted if they had come out early?
The bottom line is I’m curious how good a player Harrison will be the next three years and how big a deal he will get in his second contract.
The bigger the contract in 2022, the better his decision to leave early will look. If he had waited a year, he could be playing under his rookie contract in 2022.
Harrison may yet prove Saban singled him out unfairly.