Cleveland Browns could draft NCAA opt-out players in 2021

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 28: Micah Parsons #11 of the Penn State Nittany Lions reacts during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Arlington, Texas (Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 28: Micah Parsons #11 of the Penn State Nittany Lions reacts during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Arlington, Texas (Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images) /

Should the Cleveland Browns consider 2021 opt-out draft prospects?

Should the Cleveland Browns consider drafting players who opted out of the 2020 NCAA season but will still be eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft?

Yes, definitely. TheBrowns should be open to the possibility of drafting players who have opted out of college football this year due to the Covid-19 situation, even though they will not advance their skill levels as much as they would if they had played this year.

Players at all skill levels have opted out, each for their own personal reasons, which really the sports world has no basis to judge them on. Most of them are not NFL prospects, but some of them were headed on a career trajectory that would have taken them to the NFL. The list includes potential first-round picks such as Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau from the University of Miami — as well as several other potential day two and day three prospects.

Sadly, there’s a case being made that these players may not be trustworthy, that they are bailing on their teams, and if they quit on the college team, they will probably bail on the Browns too. In particular, college football fans may be upset to see players leave their favorite teams, and might prefer to see the pros avoid these opt-out players like the plague. Parsons, who by the way, has a two-year-old baby boy to support, is being called a quitter on Twitter for taking the lowest risk path to professional sports.

However, this view is shortsighted and wrong. The reason students go to college is to prepare for a professional career, not to prepare for illness, death, and abandoning young children for the benefit of fans, no matter how ardent and supportive these fans may think they are. Parsons is an All-American linebacker and would look very good in brown and orange even if some short-sighted fan is upset over something that doesn’t affect him personally.

The college football situation is vastly different from the NFL situation because of the issue of compensation and assumption of risk. In the NFL, players are paid via collective bargaining, so that the players are informed about the risks they are taking and can decide whether it is worth it or not through their union representation.

In the college ranks, however, the situation is much murkier. Some smaller conferences have elected to postpone or cancel their seasons altogether. At the major conference level, the issue of assumption of risk is less clear because the players are not well represented. There’s no compensation except in the form of a college education, and so players are being asked to assume the total Covid-19 liability for unknown risks that may extend far beyond their playing days. It’s probably very unlikely, but someone could actually die from Covid-19 that arguably could be caught during a football game.

This has led to the formation of groups such as the Players of the PAC-12 #We are United. They are asking, among other major issues, whether there might be health risks from Covid-19 that they might get from playing football that might affect them later in life, and will the PAC-12 and/or NCAA help them in any way?

The answer is no. Now go play football, troublemakers.

At least, that is the current position, and that is putting the season in jeopardy. The basic problem is that the NCAA wants the players to preserve their amateur status, so they really cannot give them anything extra without jeopardizing that status. It’s really a Catch-22 situation. Negotiating with the group tacitly suggests that the athletes are not amateurs.

There is also the small matter that an astounding $18 billion are spent on amateur collegiate sports annually, creating the perception of unfairness. However, so far the NCAA has been able to argue successfully in court that the players should not be paid any money and that this is legal and equitable.

It’s easy to imagine the young collegiate football player sitting at the dining room table with his folks and having the following conversation, “Dad, Mom, I don’t know what to do. They say on TV that there is going to be a legal battle about whether we are going to even have a season. If I get legal advice about what to do, they say I will lose my scholarship. Maybe the best course of action is to work on the Bachelor’s Degree this year, and come back to the team next year if I don’t get the right vibe from the NFL.”

What if it was your son or daughter who was a college athlete? Would you pound the table and demand that they get back on the field immediately for good old Jock State University? Or could you see the other side of the issue?

If you were Andrew Berry, general manager of the Browns, you would have to have some way to estimate the effect of a one-year hiatus into the profile of the player. That’s anyone’s guess, really. Definitely, it will interfere with the player’s football development to miss a full season of games. Missing the 2020 season may not be as serious as missing 2019 or 2021, however, because there is a very good chance that this season will be delayed or shortened, especially outside the Power Five. The players who stay are not getting the full benefit of a normal college football season, if there is such a thing.

The players who opt out altogether might be a little slower to pick up a pro playbook than someone that spends their 2020 season in a major college program. But by year two, it will not make any difference.

If the scouts and front office believed in a player as a pro prospect before he opted out, he should still be a pro prospect despite missing a season. They may move him back a few places on their prioritized draft list, but nothing drastic.

On the other hand, having a full year to train means that the Combine will take on more importance than usual for players who opt out of the 2020 season.

It is hard to find fault with the players who opt out based on the uncertain football prognosis, on top of whatever unique health issues may also exist for each player and his family. The Browns will not rule out this pool of talent.

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While recognizing that missing a full season has to retard the development of each player, missing what promises to be a chaotic 2020 college football season may not be as bad as missing some other college football season.

Go for it, Andrew.