"Have you heard anything?" "What do you think the deal is?" "What is your agent saying?" These are the type of questions that are annoying as fuck when you're a free agent waiting on a call. And that purgatory is exactly where I was during the months of September and October of 2019. I was waiting on that phone to ring and I thought a call would come once I was healthy. It didn't.
Initially, if you recall from my last blog, my plan in 2019 was to skip the entire offseason, train and stay ready, build Bussin' With The Boys on the side, and land on a roster towards the end of training camp to make the 53-man squad. That all went according to plan with the Saints until I caught that pussy ankle injury during the fourth preseason game that ultimately led to me being cut on an injury settlement. For those unaware of what an injury settlement is, it basically means that the Saints were cutting me BUT we would have to come to an agreement on how long it would take to get my ankle healthy. (Example: if we agree that it is a 3-week ankle injury, then that would mean I'd get 3 weeks of pay as if I were on the roster.) What makes this tougher is that the team with whom you work out an injury settlement isn't allowed to bring you back for three EXTRA weeks after the agreed upon settlement has expired. So theoretically, I would have had to wait six weeks to play for the Saints, whereas every other team could call anytime after my ankle was healed. This will be important to understand later in the blog when I go to Oakland.
Six weeks went by and not one phone call. It wasn't working out like I thought it would and honestly, I was starting to get a little discouraged. I started to think that maybe a team wouldn't call and that this could be it... maybe I'm retired and I don't know it yet? A couple more weeks went by and at this point, as crazy as it sounds, part of me almost didn't want that phone to ring. I was healthy, I was building Bussin' With The Boys, and I was starting to enjoy my stress-free life because I had lived in such a performance-based world for so long that there was this new freedom I was experiencing. It sucked not playing and battling with the boys every Sunday but damn, that stress you put on yourself surrounding every game... you just live in a different head space for seven months out of the year, and God forbid you lose... you end up awake all night watching film and crucifying yourself on all the plays you didn't make. It sounds fucking crazy because the money is so good and playing ball has ALWAYS been my dream, but I don't know... I think the scariest part about not playing ball is not finding that sense of significance and that "high" somewhere else. I can see why transitioning away from the NFL is so hard for guys, mentally. There's this degree of feeling like you have the world in the fucking palm of your hand and you'll have forever to enjoy it. Everyone is all about you and it feels like, in a way, that the world revolves around your life and I don't give a shit to say that. I'm not some entitled douchebag who thinks people owe me something because I'm an NFL player. That's just what comes to mind as I sit here and type away and reflect on my insecurities surrounding football being over.
Well, that new "high" eventually came with the podcast. It came when I cashed our first sponsorship money for the podcast (s/o Regal Realty, no free shoutouts). Seeing that check written to BWTB felt like I was cashing in on a six-figure game check in the NFL (weird flex); the sense of accomplishment from what we had been building combined with the fear of having no clue how it would go; the work was finally starting to pay off and it felt fucking amazing. It took a weight off my shoulders that I would've had during the season as I anxiously waited for a call to get picked up by a team. It allowed me to focus on something other than football.
Not having shit to do brought on the idea of hosting tailgates for Titans home games. There was nothing stopping us from towing the bus over to the stadium and throwing a banger tailgate for the fans. So we did. At first I didn't attend because I thought it could be a bad look for me, but once I wasn't hearing anything from any teams I thought, "fuck it, man, just go. You're not doing shit else."
No bullshit, the week before the Raiders called, I was tailgating for a Titans game, slingin' Bussin' With The Boys merch, and pounding lattes and water trying to get everyone else hammered. I was starting to catch a rhythm in my "new normal," because at this point I was healthy and just waiting.
It's funny because Taylor actually FaceTimed me on his way to the stadium for their game on this day so I could show him the turnout and support for the boys. As I was in my truck he asked, "why don't you just retire and go all in on this BWTB stuff?" Not in a negative way like I couldn't play and should hang it up. I think he started to see that my foot was halfway out the door, I was passionate and having fun with the podcast, and I enjoyed my life in Nashville. Also, it probably sucked seeing your boy so optimistic about getting picked up soon and then that "soon" never actually coming.
I was contemplating retirement. But when I started to think about retiring I would ask myself, "what would my 10-year-old self want me to do?" Because that young motherfucker wanted this NFL dream more than life. When you think about your young self and the aspirations you once had, choices become easier. I wanted to do right by young Willy C and not close the book just yet. Plus, I truly believed I still had some juice left in the ol' tank and that this overachieving body could be an asset to a team. Still do.
My fiancé and I were watching Sunday Night Football on the night of October 27, 2019. She asked me, point blank, "why don't you think you're getting picked up?" and the reality of the situation to me was that if I was a GM, there'd be no reason to pick up a veteran unless you're slim on depth and have a shot to make the playoffs, or if you need someone to plug and play right away. You wouldn't add a vet if you're having a losing season because in that case, you're trying to get younger and build for the future. You wouldn't add a vet when you have developmental and practice squad guys to round out your depth because why spend the money if he's not going to really play? Did I think I was better than a lot of guys that were on a roster? Abso-fuckin-lutely, but it just is what it is. I couldn't control what was happening so I had to try and not worry about it.
Week 8 had passed and I was getting over it. I was in the Vanderbilt weight room with my strength coach, James Dobson (s/o Coach Dobber - my second father), and wasn't motivated to train. That unmotivated feeling was becoming a new theme and I would just talk with him about everything like I always do. I said, "fuck it, I think I'm done." He just laughed because I'm always in there spoutin' off about some bullshit. He called me out: "All of this 'be a fucking wolf' stuff and you can't even be patient. Give it more time. The old Will Compton would." He obviously cut me deep with that one because anytime someone uses your words against you, you know they got your dumbass. He knew I was halfway in and out with everything and that it was stressing me out. I was in this limbo because I wanted to make a decision and be all in with something. My mindset had transformed: make it through Monday and Tuesday and I'll have the rest of the week to myself. Why those days? Because Monday and Tuesday were the days that a team would most likely call - the beginning of a new week and opponent. Remember, I was at a point mentally where I really hoped my phone wouldn't ring.
My phone rings that afternoon. My agent. Upon seeing his name come across my phone, my first thought was, "ah fuck, OF COURSE the call is coming now." I let it go to voicemail because I didn't want to make some hasty decision on the spot. I can be terrible on the phone under pressure. He left a voicemail saying the Raiders wanted to work me out. He followed up with a text wanting me to confirm that he could book the next flight out to Oakland. I just didn't respond because I didn't even know if I wanted to do it. It was time to shit or get off the pot.
I got home and told my fiancé, "yo the Raiders want to fly me out." She was excited as hell for me until I interrupted "I don't know if I want to go." Deep down I knew I was going to go but mixing that fast decision with where my head was at -- I was just being a little bitch. She gave me perspective and humility at the same time. "You would regret not going and never finding out. You also don't even know if you'll make it. So if you don't, then you can come back here and continue doing what you're doing." Future wifey just dropping gems on my ass. Low key disrespected me, though, in even suggesting the possibility of not making it. That's how you get left at the altar.
Bags were packed and I was headed out to Oakland, Calif. When you don't know if it's just a workout or you're getting signed, you pack like you're not coming back.
Let the gooey shit begin.
The team flew me in and put me up in a hotel. Obviously, I ordered room service and a movie to run up the bill because it's on the team's dime. Savvy vet move. Then, it was all about preparing for the workout the next day. Hydration, supplements (NSF approved), stretching, rolling out, and visualizing how the workout would go. The boy was ready.
The next day, the team picked up me and a few others to head to the facility for the workout. We were put in this small little room with a few lockers and a change of clothes. It's always a weird little vibe when you're around other grown men whom you just met and you have to change with them. When I feel nervous I have to break the ice with some weird humor -- "Let's get naked, boys." That was my line under pressure that day. Did it work? I got a couple chuckles, which was all I needed and boom… our guards were down. All I really need is that small camaraderie vibe to get out of my own head and enjoy the situation a little more. You never know when these football opportunities will end.
I felt like I crushed the workout. Then, it was about surviving the tedious process of getting a physical, meeting with the doctors about previous injuries, and checking all of the boxes. During this process the team still books your return flight back home just in case they don't sign you. You pretty much get taken around everywhere performing on command, and not having any idea what is about to happen next. As far as I knew, once my physical and everything was over, they were flying me back to Nashville.
Finally, it was my time to meet with someone from the personnel department to learn my fate. Let's just call him "Duggs" for the sake of this story. Duggs said, "your flight is at 2:30. So once you get done meeting upstairs we will get you to the airport." Now I think I'm FOR SURE going home. I walk down the hall, pass one of the players that was in the workout with me, he tells me good luck with everything because he was headed back to the airport, and just like that… lost a soldier to the good fight already.
I get to the room and sit down. "We are going to offer you a contract." I was hype on the inside. I was also thinking about how the state of California was going to fuck me on my taxes. Then came another statement: "We have also tied an injury clause to the contract. Take your time, call your agent, and come get us when you're ready."
Fuckin' Duggs dude. The injury clause basically summed up that if I were to have an injury to my right foot, or if an injury was caused from my right foot, that they could release me and not have to pay me, provide rehab, no injury settlement, anything. They could basically cut me, wash their hands, and rip a cigar afterwards. My right foot was named specifically because of my ankle injury in New Orleans, and because I also had a lisfranc injury to my right foot that put me on injury reserve back in 2017 when I was with the Redskins. I respect it, though. They did their due diligence and wanted to see if they could sneak one in on me. It's all business and that was the smartest move from their standpoint.
I called my agent right away. This isn't an exact quote but his explanation went something like, "you hurt yourself by telling them you take anti-inflammatories for your foot."
Ya, no shit! I just got done rehabbing my ankle injury with the Saints. I don't want to fucking feel pain while I'm playing FOOTBALL. Plus, everyone in the locker room gets anti-inflammatory access like it's candy. There was no real benefit to me lying about anti-inflammatories. I mean, ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory (s/o ibuprofen no free shoutouts).
This is where the line gets so gray with players in the NFL with injuries. If you're honest, you fuck yourself short-term because the team has leverage to negotiate against you; potentially losing money and/or your career. If you lie, you can fuck yourself long-term health-wise; if you wanted to get Workers Comp for a shoulder injury, for example, but you never reported it, the team can plead the fifth and not have to be liable for it. It sucks, but it is what it is. It will always be that way because negotiating is the name of every game.
And I'm not arguing for one side or the other, either. Every player has a different situation and he's got to weigh the risk versus the reward. I would have easily signed that dotted line had it been earlier in my career. But I was potentially looking at my last year playing, nine weeks of a season left, and already a veteran with some injury history. Fortunately, I haven't had a surgery in my NFL career knock on wood but if I were to get injured and needed surgery, I would be LIVID with myself if I had signed that contract.
That was basically the conversation I had with my agent. Of course, he understood and told me there is no harm in walking away as long as I was okay with that. It was basically all up to me again. Shit or get off the pot.
I called in Duggs. I told him we appreciated the offer but wasn't okay with the injury clause and would like to go ahead and get a flight back to Nashville. I fought hard with myself. Walking away from $400K (weird flex) to finish the season can be argued a dumbass move but again, God forbid I injure my foot - I'd be sitting at home with no pay and having to figure out my own shit.
We shook hands and he told me he would get the flight booked. I'm sitting there doubting what I just did. Relayed the message to my agent, updated my close circle, and told my girl that I was coming back home.
Mind you… while all of this is happening around 5PM, I see on Twitter that the Raiders had signed me from a reporter who posted at 1PM. That's how you know teams leak their news immediately to reporters.
So instead of leaking my info to someone, I felt like reporting my own news -- might as well use my platform, right?
Fifteen minutes go by and ol' DUGGS came back into the room after saying he would book my flight and said, "we're sorry for the wait. Mayock and the team doctor are going over everything. They want to talk to you soon."
LET'S FUCKIN' GO!
They might scrap the clause to sign the standard contract. STILL IN IT BOYS!
The doctor came in shortly after and wanted to go over my "anti-inflammatory use." I basically told him why I was on them, the issues I was currently having, etc. He left the room and moments later, the legendary Mike Mayock came in (s/o TV guy Mayock) and offered me the deal without the injury clause. Cloud nine!
We shook hands and hugged with joy since Mayock had basically just signed the GREATEST NINE-WEEK-VETERAN-MINIMUM DEAL of his fucking life. I was an Oakland Raider living in Alameda, Calif. at the Extended Stay America for the next two months. That's another story in itself.
My God, writing is hard. Appreciate you guys for reading. Seriously. It's pretty fun to tell these stories in my own creative way. Leave comments about what else you might want to hear. If you haven't already subscribed/listened to our podcast Bussin' With The Boys you should give it a shot. The boys have a good time. Check us out and subscribe here: Bussin' With The Boys