As the days before the 2004 NFL Draft approached, the soap-opera began. Two teams; the San Diego Chargers and the New York Giants. Two quarterbacks; Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. Two NFL front offices with limited finances. The stage was set and the drama was intense. The two clubs could not agree on trade terms that would send the #1 pick in the draft (Manning) to the Giants in exchange for the #4 overall pick and other considerations to the Chargers. Eli, and the entire Manning family let it be known that they had no interest in playing for San Diego. The Mannings publicly plead with the Chargers to NOT draft him. The Giants coveted Eli Manning and envisioned him as their franchise QB.
As the 14th minute of the 15 minute allotted time to select their pick approached, the Chargers and Giants had not reached a deal. The Chargers informed the Giants of their intention to go against the wishes of Eli and the Mannings and make him their Top Draft Pick. Suddenly, the Giants saw the light - called the Chargers and made a deal to select the player the Chargers had wanted to trade down for: Philip Rivers. In the end, there was a trade and both teams got their respective QB-of-the-future.
What about the money? In two very similar contracts, both players will be very wealthy young men. Manning signed a six-year $45,000,000 contract with the Giants. His deal includes incentives that could make the contract worth $54,000,000. In addition, Manning received a $20,000,000 signing bonus. Take a second and look at all those zeros! Philip Rivers signed a six-year $40,500,000 deal. His incentive package could push the contract value above $50,000,000. Rivers' signing bonus was $14,500,000. Neither player having played a single down in the NFL, both were instant millionaires. Who said, "Show me the money!"
This year, there is one, clear-cut, no doubt about it, would-be millionaire: Matt Leinart. The USC QB is coming off his second-straight national championship. He also earned the Heisman Trophy. Leinart is a junior at USC and has not officially declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft - yet. January 15th is the deadline for underclassmen to declare their intention to enter the draft. The clock is ticking and there is a lottery ticket with Leinart's name waiting for him. In some cases, it might be a tough decision. Hmmm, should I return to school or become a millionaire with one signature?
Former USC QB, Carson Palmer was the first overall pick in the 2003 Draft. Palmer was also a junior when he declared himself eligible for the NFL. By declaring himself early, Palmer was able to negotiate his contract in advance of the draft with the team holding the Top Pick. The Cincinnati Bengals signed Palmer to a six-year, $49,000,000 deal. His signing bonus was $14,000,000. When Palmer left USC, he opened the door for Leinart to become the starter. That window of opportunity became a huge spotlight for Leinart and the Trojans.
The San Francisco 49'ers own the Top Pick in the 2005 Draft. The 49'ers have fallen on hard times of late. The once proud franchise has become the worst team in the NFL. The 49'ers are in need of a quarterback, among other things. They are going to need to re-build the franchise. One player, a quarterback, a quarterback from USC, might be the beginning of a new era. IF, that one player declares himself eligible for the draft.
Someone who cares about Matt Leinart should say these three words to him, "take the money." Very likely to be the first pick in the 2005 draft, Leinart will earn between $50-$60,000,000 including a signing bonus near $20,000,000 for 6-years. Cool in the huddle, calm in the pocket and an arm to make every throw at the NFL level. Anyone whispering to Leinart that he should stay in school and get his degree simply does not have the young QB's best interests at heart. Matt, you're ready. You are at the top of your game. Do it for yourself, your family and everyone that cares about you - TAKE THE MONEY.
Money isn't everything. I loved my college experience too; didn't we all? But sometimes it's simply time to move along to the next challenge in life. If that challenge happens to include a $20,000,000-set-you-up-for-life signing bonus... that's not even a real question! Take the money! You can finish school any time throughout your life. There is really no need to talk about all the things that could go wrong. Matt, you're a solid young man. Now take the money and have a great career - please.