The quarterback sat in his apartment on Tuesday afternoon, pondering his next move in life.
He had signed with the Eagles this offseason, but the team never told him of its plans to trade up in the draft for Carson Wentz. Suddenly, he had to figure out what to do next with his football career.
No, we’re not talking about Sam Bradford, who will still collect $22 million from the Eagles whether he plays or not. The real quarterback affected by the Eagles’ play for Wentz was McLeod Bethel-Thompson, a 27-year-old journeyman who suddenly found himself fourth on the depth chart and was unceremoniously released last week, 2½ weeks after the draft.
“The coaches in Philly all sat down with me, told me I did everything I could, that they respect the way I came out here as a professional the whole time,” Bethel-Thompson said by phone last Tuesday, about nine hours after his release. “It’s a million-to-1 shot just to get in the NFL, and then it’s a lottery to find the right situation.”
Tom Brady, the Super Bowl-winning, supermodel-marrying quarterback, is the face of the NFL. But so is Bethel-Thompson, representing the thousands of athletes who struggle to stick in the league.
He is just good enough to get tryouts and practice squad opportunities, but hasn’t been able to find a permanent home. Bethel-Thompson has now been released by an NFL team nine times since he graduated from Sacramento State in 2011.
“It would be so much easier if one coach or anybody would say, ‘You don’t have the stuff,’ ” he said. “And the longer I’m in it, I know I have the talent. It’s just about right place, right time.”
I met Bethel-Thompson at the end of the 2011 season, when he spent 12 days with the Dolphins. The San Francisco native has been released by the 49ers three times, the Vikings and Dolphins twice each. He spent eight days with the Patriots on their practice squad at the start of the 2014 regular season, two months with the Eagles this offseason, and estimates he has had between 15 and 20 tryouts with teams over the years.
Bethel-Thompson also played for the San Jose SaberCats of the Arena Football League and Sacramento Mountain Lions of the now-defunct United Football League.
He’s the guy you see in mop-up duty in the fourth quarter of preseason games — if he gets into the game at all. He’s been in the NFL for five-plus years now, and he has dressed for exactly one regular-season game, a Week 4 contest with the Vikings in 2013. Otherwise he’s been inactive for 19 games with the Vikings, six games with the 49ers, and on the practice squad or unemployed for the rest. He has yet to take a real NFL snap.
Even in training camp and the preseason, Bethel-Thompson’s opportunities are limited as the third- or fourth-string quarterback. And because he has bounced around so much, he has never gotten consistent coaching.
“Put me between the lines, and I feel like I can out-throw 90 percent of quarterbacks in the NFL,” said Bethel-Thompson, who stands 6 feet 4 inches and 235 pounds. “Playing time is the only thing that hurts me. You fall into a catch-22. ‘We’re going to release you because you don’t have enough game experience.’ And then it’s like, ‘What can I do to get on the field? It’s to stay on this roster and you give me that shot.’ You get stuck in this cycle.”
Every time Bethel-Thompson thinks he has his feet on solid ground, he is befallen by an unexpected circumstance.
His career was going well with the Vikings in 2012-13, serving as the backup for Matt Cassel in his second season, before the Vikings dumped him in Week 5 for Josh Freeman, who was surprisingly cut by Tampa Bay.
Bethel-Thompson was claimed by the 49ers, outperformed Colt McCoy on the practice field, and was told he had a chance to be Colin Kaepernick’s backup entering 2014, but then the Niners picked up Josh Johnson and Blaine Gabbert in the offseason, and Bethel-Thompson was cut at the end of the next preseason.
After bouncing between the Patriots, Vikings, Dolphins, he wound up back on the 49ers’ practice squad late last year, and thought he had found a home. But then the 49ers hired Chip Kelly, and Bethel-Thompson was no longer a fit. He thought he was signing with Philly to be the third-stringer, but then the Wentz move happened.
Though he’s been released nine times, it’s never easy news to take.
“It’s terrible. Every time, it’s terrible,” Bethel-Thompson said. “I’ve got to pick up, go back home. You get that feeling in the bottom of your gut that what you love to do is being taken away from you. The day that feeling goes away is when it doesn’t matter to you anymore.”
Bethel-Thompson has been living a nomadic lifestyle since college, when he appeared in five games as a walk-on freshman quarterback at UCLA before getting a scholarship opportunity at Sacramento State.
He has an apartment’s worth of clothing and furniture locked up in a storage unit in San Francisco. When he’s not on an NFL team, he coaches at his high school and crashes with his parents, sister, or brother, who all live in the Bay Area. He’s single, and “it would be impossible to be married. I would’ve given up already if I had to drag somebody through this.”
Fortunately, Bethel-Thompson made a little money in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, which has sustained him the last few years. In 2012, he was on the Vikings’ 53-man roster for 16 games (though he was always inactive on game day), making the league-minimum $390,000. In 2013, he made a little over $25,000 per week for each of the 10 weeks he was on the Vikings’ and 49ers’ 53-man rosters.
Since then, making money from football has been a struggle. He spent most of 2014 and the final month of 2015 on a practice squad, making $6,300 per week in 2014 and $6,600 per week in 2015. In the offseason, he got paid $175 or $195 per workout (maximum four per week), but had to dip into his savings to be able to afford an apartment and living expenses.
“If you saw my checks in the offseason, you would laugh,” Bethel-Thompson said. “After taxes, you don’t even make $500-$600 per week. I’ve lost money in the last two offseasons because teams don’t pay for housing. And if I’m not on a team or a practice squad for a season, it starts hurting.”
When he is with a team, Bethel-Thompson attends practice each day knowing that the next interception or missed read could cost him his job.
“I can turn myself into an insomniac — ‘Why did I throw that ball? Why did I try to make a play and throw that interception?’ ” he said. “I’ve spent so many sleepless nights, so much time worrying about what the future holds.”
So Bethel-Thompson tries to find the positives in his journey. He has played for five organizations, tried out for several more, and has met several interesting coaches and players over the years. He got to observe Brady and Bill Belichick for a week in New England. He handles adversity much better, and didn’t pout when the Eagles traded up to draft Wentz, even though he knew that his release was inevitable.
“I can only control what I can control, so I went out the next day and threw the ball to the best of my ability,” Bethel-Thompson said. “To think about the inevitable makes today not enjoyable. I was proud about how I handled this, because I feel like I grew up as a person. If I can wake up every day and be a positive thinker and be happy, then I’ve made the best out of this situation.”
Bethel-Thompson doesn’t know what the future holds. He will return home to San Francisco, stay in shape, coach at his high school, and wait for his agent to call with a tryout. It doesn’t matter if that tryout comes in Jacksonville, Seattle, or any point in between. Bethel-Thompson will be there.
“Your dream is deferred, but you never believe it’s over,” he said. “You always have hope. They said I can play, so it’s not like I’m going to give up.”
Ravens will pay violation for pads
When the Ravens complained about the Patriots’ eligible-ineligible formations in the 2014 divisional playoffs, Tom Brady needled his rivals, saying, “Maybe those guys got to study the rule book and figure it out.”
A year and a half later, the Ravens might be in trouble again for not knowing the rule book well enough.
They are being investigated by the NFL for violating the league’s rules concerning offseason workouts. The Ravens had players wearing full pads for five minutes during a non-contact punt protection drill at their rookie minicamp May 6.
While this seems like a harmless mistake, wearing full pads in the offseason is strictly prohibited by the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Every NFL practice is taped, so the league office and NFL Players Association shouldn’t have much difficulty figuring out if a rule was broken.
The Ravens responded by saying that they were unaware that going full-pads was not allowed in rookie minicamps, but that explanation is hard to believe, and the league office apparently isn’t buying it, according to ESPN. The rules governing the league’s offseason program have been in place since the new collective bargaining agreement was signed in 2011.
In 2014, the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll were fined more than $300,000 and forced to cancel two minicamp practices for violating rules about contact in offseason practices. Since this is not the Ravens’ first violation under John Harbaugh — they forfeited their final two weeks of offseason practices in 2010 after violating rules “concerning the intensity and tempo of drills” — the Ravens should be levied a heavy fine and forced to cancel some of their practices this offseason.
FAVORED GUEST LIST
Rookie event highlights offense
Mama, don’t let your sons grow up to be defensive players.
The NFL Players Association invited the highest-profile and most-marketable rookies out to Los Angeles this weekend for the Rookie Premiere, a three-day event where rookies learn about the business side of the NFL, connect with major brands for endorsement opportunities, and take photos for their first trading cards with Panini America.
It is unclear how many players turned down invitations — Patriots receiver Malcolm Mitchell was scheduled to attend but decided not to so he could stay home and study his playbook — but the list of invitees clearly skews toward the glamour positions on offense.
Of the 41 players who were slated to attend, only one plays defense — Chargers end Joey Bosa, the No. 3 overall pick.
The other 40 attendees were offensive players, with 39 of them being quarterbacks, running backs, or receivers. Chargers third-round pick Henry Hunter was the only tight end on the list.
Teaming up to fight Alzheimer’s
Huddle Up for New Alzheimer’s Treatments, a national campaign led by several former NFL players, is hosting a free event on Wednesday from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Boston Marriott Newton to provide free memory screenings and encourage people to participate in clinical studies to help get new medical treatments for Alzheimer’s and dementia approved.
The national campaign is led by former NFL player and current broadcaster Solomon Wilcots, and Wednesday’s event is headlined by former Patriots tight end Christian Fauria, who will meet with fans and introduce two doctors from the Boston Center for Memory.
Fauria hasn’t personally been affected by either disease, but obviously is well aware of the many former players who have been afflicted and invited all Patriots alumni to participate.
Fans interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP here.
New Englanders will be heartened to know there are now two members of the 2004 Eagles team that lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl that have been elevated to high-ranking positions in the NFL offices. Former Eagles right tackle and 14-year NFL veteran Jon Runyan was named the NFL’s vice president of policy and rules administration last week, replacing Merton Hanks as the league’s chief of on-field discipline. The other former Eagle, of course, is cornerback Troy Vincent, who is the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations and now has a much better understanding of the Ideal Gas Law . . . How snakebitten are the Jaguars? First-round pick Jalen Ramsey tore his meniscus last week, a year after first-round pick Dante Fowler tore his ACL in rookie minicamp. The Jags should cancel all future offseason workouts and just regroup in the fall. We’re kidding, but not really . . . Two great stories out of San Diego this past week. The first was defensive end Corey Liuget earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois, five years after he left school early to pursue the NFL. Liuget has made plenty of money as a former first-round pick who later signed a $50 million extension, but he promised his mother he would get his college degree, and spent parts of the last five springs earning the 38 credits he needed to complete his degree in sociology. The other story was new Chargers center Matt Slauson, a seven-year veteran with the Jets and Bears, driving 31 hours with almost no rest from Illinois to San Diego last weekend so he could practice with his new teammates on Monday, a week after signing. “I wanted my truck here,” he explained to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I could have had it shipped, but then I’d be without it for a week, and I don’t know how much that would cost to get a big truck shipped. I thought, ‘I’ll just drive.’ ”
Quote of the week
“I listened to Sam Bradford again. I just almost threw up. I can’t believe Sam Bradford is complaining about making $40 million in the next two years, and because he actually has to compete for a position. This guy, this guy right here definitely sets a bad tone of what a player should be.”
— The always quotable and entertaining Michael Bennett, the Seahawks defensive end and brother of Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, to ESPN 710 in Seattle about Bradford’s brief holdout with the Eagles.
Against the grain
With the selection of Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick, the Cowboys are hoping to buck a recent trend. Eight other running backs have been taken in the top five since 2000, and they have racked up a mere seven Pro Bowl appearances among them.