(Photo by ESPN.com)
When the media honor players for succeeding after recovering from past medical mishaps (Tedy Bruschi, Steve Smith, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Chad Pennington (twice)) and banishments from the NFL (Michael Vick and Tommy Maddox), you get the feeling that the media would be doing something right. Conversely, you have to remember that media would honor Philip Rivers and Drew Brees for success just because they improved from bad years, which also brings up another reason many fans hate the media.
While many consider Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray as the frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year, it might be more appropriate to find someone else as Murray may be nothing more than an improved player like Brees and Rivers were in 2004 and 2013.
Before officially becoming a Cleveland Brown in December 2015, wide receiver Terrelle Pryor was out of football after failed off-season stints at quarterback with the Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, and Cincinnati Bengals and an injury-riddled one at wide receiver for his current team. Similarly, Tim Hightower was banished by the Washington Redskins and the rest of the NFL after recovering from a torn ACL in late August 2012 until the New Orleans Saints unexpectedly added him in November 2015.
Both are now pivotal members to their teams’ offenses. Pryor is on pace to accumulate 1141 receiving yards and already has five rushing and receiving touchdowns, and Hightower is set to garner 848 yards from scrimmage, 24 fewer than his second-highest (872) in 2010 and 178 short of his highest (1026) in 2009.
Sure, the “Debbie Downer” fan (also known as a DeMarco Murray advocate) might diminish Pryor and Hightower’s accomplishments by pointing out how the Browns and Saints had to lend extra hands out for them. But the last time I checked, in the NFL, you need to have talent in order for someone to sign you. Murray still had a seldom amount after looking diminished with the Philadelphia Eagles and is dominating behind an elite offensive line. Except, when a player has a bloated contract and is acquired after having a bad season, the likely reason is that a coach is delusional enough to believe that he can turn that player’s career around.
Just ask the Oakland Raiders when they acquired Matt Schaub and the New England Patriots when they acquired Albert Haynesworth and Chad Johnson.
In the cases of Pryor and Hightower, their teams ran out of depth at their positions, and when their careers were hanging by a thread at ages older than 25, their athletic abilities had to be eye-popping for their teams to keep them. One year away from football can cost a player his career. Without practice reps and competition for improvement, and executives and coaches predominantly looking for new talent in the NCAA during draft season and accomplished veteran talent in the NFL off-season, for them to be signed by one team was a miracle alone.
A television series like Undrafted and an event like the failed Veteran Scouting Combine can show how difficult it is for youthfully inexperienced and median age players to stay on NFL teams’ radars and the average NFL career might be shrinking from its average of 3.3 years.
Based on these circumstances and facts, Pryor and Hightower have remarkably beaten the odds of staying in the NFL. With layoffs that total for an approximate total of six years and their combined salaries being 2.4 times less than what Murray is earning, Murray has come back from almost nothing.
Hopefully, the voters take these circumstances into account as Pryor is dominating with the NFL’s eighth highest receiving yardage total on the league’s least talented team and Hightower has a rate of production taking place while he is playing just 25.5 percent of his team’s snaps. Tragically, the media happens to vote, and when many of them make more in salary than Pryor, Hightower, or both, the chances of either former longshot being considered are as small as Murray chances of losing it.
Remember, money never made Murray better but likely helped him to train better and recover from his past wears, tears, and struggles. Money has also not made the media smarter about football as it needs other people of less value to convey to what is left unseen. When there are no stories like Pryor’s or Hightower’s among media members, the voting results will stay tepid as they, like Murray, have very little to come back from and zilch on the line compared to Pryor and Hightower.