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Monday is the deadline for players with remaining NCAA eligibility to declare whether they want to make themselves available for the spring NFL Draft.

Alabama residents Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. stated. Ditto for Georgia’s Jalen Carter, Broderick Jones and Kelly Ringo. Ditto Northwestern’s Peter Skoronoski and Clemson’s Myles Murphy and Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr.

Just about every highly-rated player has declared for the draft at this point … with one notable exception: Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, who is in contention to be a first-round pick and the first overall pick.

Across football, Stroud is expected to do so by the deadline. But he hasn’t yet. Maybe he dragged it out for drama, or he could signify something that could become a reality in this new era where college athletes are allowed to capitalize on their name, image and likeness.

Stroud, or someone like him in the future, may actually stay and thrive because of a more favorable financial situation.

It is clear that such a decision took place before the NIL.

Peyton Manning was projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in 1997, but returned to Tennessee for one more season. In 2010, Andrew Luck did the same so he could play again and finish his degree at Stanford. Justin Herbert returned to Oregon for the 2019 season despite being a top-five or at least top-10 pick.

So it’s a rare decision, but not unheard of.

Still, all three came from wealthy (at least) backgrounds and weren’t under financial stress. Stroud has a different situation, being raised by a single mother with three siblings.

The NIL now offers the opportunity to turn professional without financial considerations to all-star players, regardless of how they grew up.

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, is projected to be a high pick in the NFL Draft. Thanks to NIL, payday is no longer zero money. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There’s nothing in the current market to suggest that Ohio State’s boosters, collectively or through more traditional merchandising or sponsorship opportunities, will be able to match the potential wealth of the NFL. The top five picks in the 2023 NFL Draft are projected to receive four-year deals worth $32 million to $41 million (including $22 million to $27 million in signing bonuses).

Getting to the league early also starts the clock on a mega-lucrative second contract. If Stroud proves he’s as good as scouts project, he could command a deal that’s already worth $30-$50 million per year, and will almost certainly go higher in the future.

That’s why if Stroud decided to stay at Ohio State, he wouldn’t be trading what he could have earned through the NIL against his rookie deal this year. Over the next 12 months, he could be relatively close to an equal amount.

He would indeed trade Year 1 (his lowest salary in the NFL) for the final year of his career, whether it’s four, eight or 20 years from now, which could be one of his highest.

There is simply no comparison.

The money is no longer zero, though millions or just tuition, room and board. Neither is development as a player. You’d be hard-pressed to convince Manning, Luck or Herbert that they made the wrong decision to return to college football. In addition to the camaraderie and education, they supposedly honed their skills so that they not only made it to the NFL, but were ready to become stars.

Patience can be beneficial.

That’s not unusual in baseball and hockey, where college players can be drafted by professional teams but still play under NCAA rules. And college basketball has already seen plenty of fringe NBA prospects, thanks in part to NIL money, including Kentucky’s Oscar Tshibwe, the reigning national player of the year.

It’s the same in college football.

Michigan boosters, among others, have formed a collective called the One More Year Foundation, which has made no secret of its goal of tipping the balance of the go-or-stay debate for Wolverine players. Its slogan broadcasts the old Bo Schembechler promise. “Those who stay will be paid.”

It directly describes itself as a “crowdfunding campaign designed to keep key Michigan football players, starting with Blake Corum, Cornelius Johnson, Trevor Keegan and Zach Zinter.”

Corum, a running back who suffered a knee injury in November, announced he would return to Ann Arbor (rather than a mid-round draft pick). Ditto for offensive linemen Keegan and Zinter, with Johnson also expected to return.

Could this work for a potential top-five pick at the most important position on the field, one that provides a huge pop of talent and college football expectations?

Stroud already had some good NIL deals. Last year, he drove a $200,000 Mercedes G Wagon in a deal with a local car dealership, along with another deal with Columbus-based clothing brand Express. And that’s just traditional stuff.

No more poor star quarterbacks. They may not be as rich as their NFL counterparts, but the promise of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of NIL money could slow the flow of talent from college to the pros. If nothing else, it gives every player of any background the luxury of choosing a development previously reserved for wealthy families.

Maybe CJ Stroud is the pioneer here. If not, someone will soon.


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