So while being on injured reserve this year I've had an opportunity to talk to a lot of fans. And what I've noticed most fans think is that the NFL lifestyle is all red carpet. Yes, it's true, some get a chance to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated and things like that and be the face of a city. But even those guys have to balance football, family, and the pressures of winning. The journey of an NFL season starts long before any Who Dats come out to see us in practice.
For most guys it starts the day after our last game of the season. That is the day some guys have to make decisions on surgeries and how to improve physically and mentally for the next season.
The process starts with the exit meeting with Coach Payton. Now at that point the upcoming free agents find out if they're in the future plans of the organization, while others are told what you need to do to improve and earn a spot on next year's team. From there players, (like myself) who have a wife and kids get ready for the move back to our respective home states. The relocation process is a big one. This includes pulling our kids out of their local school and getting them into a new one, shipping our vehicles back to our hometowns, packing up our belongings and pets. This is something some of us elect to do every 6 months!
Once that's over we might take a couple weeks off.
After the brief vacation, the competitive nature in us kicks in and we immediately jump right back into working out and training hard. For me this is driven by a fear that somewhere, somehow, some other tight end is working harder than me to take my job! So we begin to compete against an imaginary but very real opponent.
A few months later OTA's (Organized Team Activities) start, this is at the end of March here in New Orleans. During OTA's most of us don't bring our families, yet. So for me that means flying back home to California every Thursday and returning to New Orleans every Sunday through OTA's, which last until mid June.
Next comes Training Camp and for the New Orleans Saints, this is not a cakewalk. I would be willing to bet that our training camp practices are one of the most grueling, competitive practices in the NFL! If you don't believe me just go run around your block mid-day, twice-a-day, in the dead of summer in New Orleans. We also live in a hotel away from our family. We start training camp in July with about 80 guys. And at the end we end up with who the coaching staff feels is the best 53 guys to set out to hopefully bring that long coveted Super Bowl to New Orleans.
I almost forgot!
The pressure that comes from chasing this dream is really intense. I can' think of many other jobs that you're evaluated daily on your performance and, at any point, you can get fired!
Sometimes you can get fired for no reason at all because there are just not enough jobs to go around in the NFL. There are only 1,600 jobs for an NFL player in the world.
For an 11-year vet like myself, you have to worry about the salary cap and if they can find someone that is cheaper and younger. You know they are always looking. That's there job.
This is also why your family doesn't move up until we've made the team in August.
It is then time to start the season.
And yes, the New Orleans Saints are 6-0, but that just means the pressure to perform is even higher and more intense. The teams that don't fold under this pressure have the chance to become great. And those that do succumb to the pressure start looking ahead to the next season about week 10.
One of the things that make the intensity of the job that much more heightened is the constant presence of the local and national media. It's part of our jobs to deal with them, and they have pressure on them, as well. Dealing with the different members of the media is important and it's a way for us to let the fans know what we are thinking and what's going on with our team.
So, really, what am I saying? Am I just complaining and saying that this NFL gig is overrated? NOT AT ALL!
It's the most fulfilling job in the world to us. But it does come with a hefty price. Yes, we are blessed to get paid a lot of money to play football, but it's not always easy and glamorous. A lot goes into staying an NFL player. We do it for the love of the game, love of our teammates, and love of the best fans in the world.