Two football-related photos emerged last week around the time of the Super Bowl — equally jarring, but for much different reasons.
One was a photo of former 13-year offensive lineman Alan Faneca, dripping wet after just finishing the New Orleans Rock & Roll Marathon in 3 hours, 56 minutes, 17 seconds, looking like a different person after shaving his goatee and dropping 110 pounds since he last played in 2010.
The other was of former Giants backup quarterback Jared Lorenzen, now playing minor league indoor football in Kentucky, standing around a huddle with his oversized belly protruding out of his jersey after ballooning up to 320 pounds.
Lorenzen, who turns 33 this week, was affectionately known as the “Hefty Lefty” and “Pillsbury Throwboy” when he was listed at 6 feet 4 inches and 285 pounds as Eli Manning’s backup in 2008, but now he’s bigger than his offensive linemen.
Faneca, 37, shows us how unhealthy and perhaps unnatural it is for the NFL’s big guys in the trenches to be playing at 325 pounds and more. Offensive and defensive linemen often pack in 7,000-8,000 calories per day to bulk up to today’s NFL weight standards.
Lorenzen, meanwhile, exhibits the dangers of obesity and related health consequences facing many former athletes once they retire from the professional ranks.
Former offensive lineman Ross Tucker, who lost 65 pounds in the first four months after his career ended in 2007, said there is “no question” that obesity and weight management are two of the biggest obstacles facing athletes when they retire.
“It’s not really a diet. It’s just kind of a lifestyle, and I feel like I need to do it for my joints so I can be active with my children someday,” said Tucker, 34. “I was also told that if you don’t do it right away, you don’t do it at all, in terms of taking the weight off.
“I’ve had some people ask me from time to time, ‘What did you do?’ I just tell them, ‘I have this foolproof secret — eat less and work out more. It’s a calorie game, and it takes a lot of discipline. It’s not always easy. I still fluctuate sometimes.”
The biggest weight losers tend to be offensive linemen. Former Cowboys tackle Nate Newton once weighed more than 400 pounds but had a vertical gastrectomy and is now down to 220, his lowest weight since eighth grade. Former Ravens center Matt Birk dropped 75 pounds and 10 inches from his waist after retiring in early 2013, and now works as a model for a weight-loss nutritional company.
“I never thought I would pose for a picture with my shirt off,” Birk said last fall. “But I wanted to show people that it can be done and that we’re all in this together.”
And on the flip side, the biggest weight gainers tend to be skill-position players, who don’t adjust their diets after their playing careers end and they are no longer burning thousands of calories each day.
“From what I’ve noticed, it’s the running backs and the quarterbacks that had such natural genetics, and then once it’s over they don’t put the time in,” Tucker said. “And as a result they really have issues with [weight], whereas a lot of times, it’s the linemen that drop.”
Lorenzen jokingly admitted on a radio interview last week that his 320 listed weight is a bit low, and considering he ballooned this large while still playing indoor football, it’s sad to think about how big Lorenzen will get once he stops playing altogether, if he doesn’t change his diet and exercise plan.
As part of the NFL’s recent campaign to help players have a smoother transition to the real world, the Player Engagement department hosts seminars throughout the year about a proper diet and exercise plan that is appropriate for every-day living.
It also has free literature on its website with everything an athlete could need — exercise plans, diet plans based on desired calorie consumption, food trackers, meal suggestions, tips on how to eat more fruits and vegetables, and more.
Faneca’s diet consisted of 1,800 calories per day, while Tucker’s daily meal plan was specific and rigid: Cheerios at 7 a.m., an 80-calorie yogurt pack at 10 a.m., turkey with mustard on wheat bread at 1 p.m., an apple or banana at 4 p.m., and two chicken tenders at 7 p.m. He also would wake up at 5 a.m. every day to do an hour of cardio on an empty stomach to burn fat more quickly, and admits his regimen made him “miserable.”
“I was so hungry that I’d go to bed at like 8:15,” said Tucker, who played at 320 pounds and now is around 265. “But that was kind of my outlet. It was the thing I could control, the thing I could put my energy into.”
Faneca also said that losing weight and getting in shape was the perfect outlet for his competitive streak once he could no longer play football.
“I definitely did nothing for awhile — ‘Man, I did my work I’m taking a break.’ But then you realize that’s who you are and what you do, compete,” said Faneca, now a lean 6-5 and 210 pounds. “I always said I was going to lose some weight and see if it stuck, and it’s stuck so far.”
BACK TO BUSINESS
Seahawks and Broncos have decisions to make
Now that the Seahawks and Broncos have settled matters on the field, what’s next for the two Super Bowl teams? Some tough decisions are coming, and both could look quite different for the 2014 season.
The Seahawks have been aggressive in handing out big free agent contracts, and it paid off with a championship. But they are also projected to enter the offseason more than $4 million over the salary cap, even when factoring in an additional $2.85 million they can roll over from last year.
Fortunately, quarterback Russell Wilson can’t cash in yet — per the new collective bargaining agreement, players are not allowed to renegotiate their rookie contracts until after their third season, meaning Wilson must play 2014 with a base salary of $662,434 and cap number of $817,302.
But the Seahawks do have 15 unrestricted free agents, including receiver Golden Tate, defensive end Michael Bennett, cornerback Walter Thurmond, and kicker Steven Hauschka. And a few key players are reaching contract years, including cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas.
Sherman’s 2014 salary increased from $630,000 to $1.389 million due to performance escalators, but it would behoove the Seahawks to get his extension done this offseason before having to deal next year with Wilson, who could command $55 million-60 million guaranteed.
Thomas, the team’s 2010 first-round pick, has a 2014 cap number of $5.4 million, and a contract extension would not only keep him in Seattle long term but also allow the Seahawks to lower his cap hit. Seattle could be the first team with two high-paid safeties after giving Kam Chancellor $28 million ($17 million guaranteed) last offseason.
To create cap space, it seems almost a given that receiver Sidney Rice ($7.3 million in cap savings), defensive end Chris Clemons ($7.5 million savings), and tight end Zach Miller ($5 million savings) will be cut, while defensive end Cliff Avril ($7 million savings) could be asked to take a pay cut.
The Broncos, meanwhile, enter the offseason in better cap health, projected to be more than $12 million under the salary cap, but could look much different as well.
The contracts of running back Knowshon Moreno and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were voided last week, making them free agents and putting their returns in doubt. No. 2 receiver Eric Decker is the biggest among 17 unrestricted free agents, and it will be interesting to see if the Broncos are willing to pay him a big contract (upward of $15 million guaranteed) or if they will save their money for Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas next offseason. Guard Zane Beadles and linebackers Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard are other notable free agents who may not return.
The Broncos can create $6 million of cap space if they decide to part ways with Wes Welker, and they have a tough decision upcoming with Champ Bailey, 35, who has been the team’s emotional leader for a decade but has a $10.5 million cap number next year and no dead money, meaning the team has all the leverage. There is no way Bailey is playing 2014 at that cap number, but maybe he can return for one more year and $1 million-2 million.
The highs and lows of cap management
Here are the teams with the best and worst cap situations heading into the offseason, per NFL Players Association records:
Best — Oakland (projected $60-plus million of space), Jacksonville ($50 million), Cleveland ($46 million), Indianapolis ($33 million), and Miami ($32 million).
Worst — Dallas (projected $24 million over the cap), New Orleans ($13 million), Pittsburgh ($10 million), Detroit ($5 million), and San Diego ($2 million).
The Patriots have approximately $5.6 million in space but will need to free up several million more in order to sign free agents and draft picks.
Texans’ staff has a familiar look
New Texans coach Bill O’Brien finalized his staff this past week, and it is filled with names familiar to Patriots fans. O’Brien was an offensive coach and coordinator for five seasons in New England, of course, and hired a few of his old friends.
O’Brien’s defensive coordinator is Romeo Crennel, who served in that capacity for the Patriots from 2001-04. His quarterbacks coach is George Godsey, who served as Patriots tight ends coach last year but previously coached with O’Brien at Georgia Tech. His assistant strength and conditioning coach is Anthony Pleasant, a former defensive lineman who won two Super Bowls with the Patriots. And his linebackers coach is Mike Vrabel, who needs no introduction here.
Given the obvious influence, O’Brien’s Texans could emerge as a competitor with the Patriots for similar free agents and college draft prospects. Don’t be surprised if Houston jumps into the Julian Edelman sweepstakes, or perhaps serves as a landing spot for players such as linebacker Brandon Spikes, or guard Dan Connolly if he isn’t kept.
Cardinals buy themselves some time
All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald thrilled Cardinals fans and disappointed 31 other fan bases last week when he took himself off everyone’s wish list, announcing on Twitter a renegotiated contract “to help the Cardinals get better for 2014!”
It’s true, he did give the Cardinals some much-needed cap relief this year. But for the locals who dream about seeing Fitzgerald end his career in a Patriots uniform, don’t fret — the Cardinals just pushed their problems to the future, and will be doing the same dance with him next year.
Per NFL Players Association records, Fitzgerald did a simple restructuring for 2014 to free up $10 million in cap space, converting $11.75 million in base salary into a roster bonus. He receives the money immediately, but for cap purposes, the money is spread out over five years ($2.35 million per year). Fitzgerald’s 2014 cap number is now a modest $8.6 million, but his 2015 number is a massive $23.6 million, all but ensuring that Fitzgerald will either have to redo his contract again next offseason, or the Cardinals will look to move him.
Fitzgerald will receive another $8 million bonus if he is on the Cardinals’ roster on the fifth day of the 2015 league year, meaning his contract will have to be dealt with early next March.
Free, but for different reasons
Two former Patriots also made news with their contract status last week.
The Falcons cut cornerback Asante Samuel, 33, instead of paying him a $3.5 million base salary and up to $1 million in roster bonuses next year.
And why would Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel decide to opt out of his contract when he was due a respectable $3.7 million salary?
Had Cassel exercised his option, he would have received a $500,000 bonus in March, but none of his $3.7 million salary was guaranteed, putting him at risk of potentially getting cut this offseason. By opting out and becoming a free agent, Cassel could seek a contract similar to other top backups — upward of $4 million-5 million guaranteed per season.
Smith has been through a lot
Not a bad three-week stretch for Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith. In the NFC Championship game, Smith intercepted Richard Sherman’s incredible tipped ball in the end zone to seal the victory, and then Smith had a 69-yard interception touchdown, recovered a fumble, and was named Super Bowl MVP in the victory over the Broncos.
That alone would be a great story for a 2011 seventh-round pick out of Southern Cal who was mostly a special teams contributor this season. But it’s an even better story when considering what Smith goes through just to be on the field.
While at USC, Smith was diagnosed with achalasia, a rare disorder of the esophagus that causes difficulty swallowing and regurgitation and is found in 1 of 100,000 people. Smith lost 30 pounds because of frequent vomiting while trying to eat, had the problem corrected with surgery, and fell to the seventh round of the draft, where his former college coach, Pete Carroll, threw him a life preserver.
Smith still has dietary restrictions — he must eat slowly, take a sip of water between every bite, and can’t eat rice, tuna or peanut butter.
“It’s definitely something that a lot of people still don’t understand to this day,” Smith told the Orange County Register in 2010. “They’re like, ‘Why are you eating by yourself?’ ”
Auction has a nice ring to it
The name Matt Estrella is one the Patriots would rather forget, after he was caught videotaping the Jets’ sideline in 2007 to launch the whole “Spygate” mess. But Estrella’s name came up last week when his 2004 Super Bowl ring appeared on GoldinAuctions.com. The auction lasts until Wednesday, and as of Friday afternoon the ring had reached a bid of $8,354.
The ring isn’t nearly as valuable as the one given to the players and coaches, but has the name “Estrella,” “3 out of 4,” and “21 straight” engraved on the sides.Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.