If they’re smart — they’re not — bowl games and the universities that are shackled to them by contract will start to have long, meaningful and potentially painful discussions about insurance.
Because even if he didn’t plan it, didn’t conceive it and sure as hell didn’t want it, Michigan tight end Jake Butt is the new poster boy for postseasons to come. The rallying cry. The Alamo.
Michigan TE Jake Butt tore his ACL during Friday night’s Orange Bowl loss and will need to undergo surgery, per source close to school.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 1, 2017
Remember the ACL, they’ll say. Remember Jake.
And they’ll sit.
By the dozens.
And not just a select few, the absolute cream of the cream. LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffery are just the tip of iceberg, one that’s growing larger as it drifts closer.
Butt blowing out his knee late in the first half of Friday night’s Orange Bowl doesn’t necessarily validate the decisions of tailbacks Fournette and McCaffery to skip their respective un-sexy postseason dates, having feared a loss of NFL value, if not limb, for their troubles.
But what it did do was validate the discussion, gave legs to the hypothetical and put a face on the worst-case scenario. Because it happened — and it happened to a star.
And now we’re going to see just how far that star falls.
ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported that the Wolverines’ senior had already taken out a $2 million insurance policy that kicks in if he does, indeed, fall past the second round in next spring’s draft.
And he will.
“My guess, if it’s just an ACL, someone will take him in the fourth (round),” Pro Football Focus college analyst Josh Liskiewitz said.
Before Friday night, before he’d staggered slowly off the field and into the tunnel at Hard Rock Stadium, Butt was pegged by most to be a late second-rounder. At worst.
“I can’t see a team take a top-100 pick on him now, though,” Liskiewitz continued. “He’s a good player, but he’s not that good.”
CBSSports.com’s most recent projection pegged Butt as the third-best tight end prospect on the board —Alabama’s O.J. Howard was No. 1 — and a likely second-round selection. That meshes with WalterFootball.com’s three-round mock draft before the Orange Bowl, which tapped the Michigan receiver off the board in the last pick of the second round to Dallas, 64th overall.
“I don’t see where you justify taking an injured tight end that can’t block that great and gamble (on it),” Liskiewitz said. “Is it worth that kind of gamble?”
And there’s the rub. Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was a top 10 pick 13 months ago before hyperextending his left knee in the January 2016 Fiesta Bowl. Despite being diagnosed with a torn ACL and LCL, Dallas took Smith with the third pick of the second round, No. 34 overall. He’s yet to appear in an NFL game.
The Bills took ex-Miami tailback Willie McGahee 23rd overall even after he’d blown out a knee in the national title game. Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi tore an ACL at the Liberty Bowl in the winter of ’14-15 and was tapped by Cincinnati with pick No. 21 the next spring anyway.
If enough talking heads think you’re good enough, they’ll make room at the head table. The NFL’s moral code is to win at all costs, including, most notably, the price of the long-term health of its gladiators. You have to get while the gettin’s good.
“NFL careers,” Liskiewitz said, “are finite.”
And the league will forgive almost anything. Anything, that is, except a gimpy prospect, a broken investment. Players are pieces of property on the Monopoly board, bought, traded and sold at will. If you can’t be flipped into a hotel, they’ll find another body that can.
Butt knew this. He didn’t care. No man is more important than the team, Wolverines icon Bo Schembechler decreed in 1983. The Michigan mantra. The Michigan way.
never once crossed my mind to sit this game out and I would never change that mindset. I play this game bc I love it, my teammates, coaches
— jake butt (@JBooty_88) December 31, 2016
You wonder what Bo would’ve done with Fournette and McCaffery, given the moment. They probably couldn’t run fast enough.
That said, it’s a different age, a cynical age, an age in which the curtain stays up and everybody can look backstage, nitpick what’s going on in the wings, see how the sausages get made. Coaches can claim the pursuit of every bowl trophy as equally noble in the endeavor, but fans and players know better. Playoff games have moved to a different tier, New Year’s Six games a tier just below that.
Got a text from a coach. “If some coaches can skip bowls to get ready for their next job, how can anyone fault Fournette or McCaffrey??”
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 19, 2016
“I will never have a problem with any kid saying, ‘Hey, I’m not going to play, my team’s not in the Playoff,’” Liskiewitz offered. “I would never have a problem with that.”
They’re going to have to sweeten the pot.
Schools. Bowl games. All of them.
More will be sitting. That’s Jake’s legacy.
“I don’t know what happened (Friday),” Wolverines quarterback Wilton Speight said after the game. “But whatever happened, I know he’s going to bounce back better than anybody.”
If a piece of the gangplank gives away during “Jumping Jack Flash” and Mick Jagger blows out a hip, he’s covered. In a perfect world, better protection, supplemental protection, would be available for the biggest stars agreeing to put their knees — and futures — on the line to entertain the masses. Then again, in a perfect world, we’d have an eight-team playoff.