Terrelle Pryor quit being stubborn and it could result in $42M payoff
The NFL definitively passed on Terrelle Pryor. Traded once. Waived four times. Unemployed for nearly three months of the 2015 season. He was even sent packing by five different teams, including the Cleveland Browns who are now seeing Pryor’s career as a wideout lift off.
Rest assured, that won’t happen again.
The guy who couldn’t land a minimum contract one year ago could end up being one of the hottest commodities of next offseason – if the Browns let him get that chance. Slated to become a free agent in March, Pryor could very well end up drawing a franchise tag. And if he doesn’t, a league source said the recent deal signed by Los Angeles Ramswideout Tavon Austin ($42 million over four years with more than $25 million guaranteed) would likely be this offseason’s negotiating touchstone.
All of that for a player who was scrambling to stay in the league a year ago.
Of course, those options depend on Pryor continuing his growth this season. Considering he has the full support of Browns head coach Hue Jackson as the team’s No. 1 wideout, that’s a solid bet. As it stands, Pryor’s early pace has him headed for a 1,000-yard season and he is seemingly making bigger strides with every game. And lately, he is a player teams have regretted passing on. As former New England Patriots executive Mike Lombardi said of the franchise missing on Pryor a year ago, “This league gives you a chance to get better. You just have to be willing to take advantage of it.”
That might end up being a shared sentiment for most NFL teams when it comes to Pryor, who had a remarkable number of doors closed in his face before this season’s blossoming in Cleveland. Multiple NFL executives who were in position to consider Pryor told Yahoo Sports the chief reason Pryor bounced around before finally settling in with Cleveland was of his own doing. Specifically, Pryor was stubborn in moving on from a starting quarterback dream (including 10 starts with the Oakland Raiders) that wasn’t going to happen.
He had plenty of opportunities, too. Beyond landing with five NFL teams – the Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals and Browns – Pryor had high-level workouts for six others, including the Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles (twice), New York Giants (twice), New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers. Beyond those 11 teams, the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills all did significant work leading up to the NFL supplemental draft in 2011, each giving serious thought to selecting Pryor that year.
Even Eagles coach Chip Kelly – who seemed to be a natural fit for Pryor’s versatile skills – passed on him after working him out as both a quarterback and a wide receiver. Much to the chagrin of some in the building who thought Pryor was worth a measured gamble.
How does a 6-foot-5 player with elite speed and dominant athleticism have such a hard time holding down an NFL job – or even getting a chance at one? The explanations are varied depending on who is answering the question, but there are two central themes: First, getting coaching staffs and executives to agree on signing a project player; Second, getting Pryor to understand that he was a far better wide receiver talent than a quarterback.
As one personnel evaluator said, “It’s not really a developmental league anymore, so there’s [not] the vision anymore for these kinds of projects. Probably the biggest thing is that he got an opportunity. With [Josh] Gordon out and [the] Browns depleted, [that] opened a door for him. … Again, getting a shared vision between coaching and scouting on a project [player] is tough. Almost out of necessity – and what do they have to lose – [that] allowed it to happen in Cleveland.”
Pryor had to be on board for it to work, too. And in the past, that wasn’t happening.
“He made it clear several times – and his people made it clear – that he didn’t want to be a receiver,” said one executive whose team seriously considered Pryor after he was released by the Seahawks. “I thought, and our coaches thought, ‘There’s a place for you to be a receiver on this level.’ But it was like he didn’t even want to hear it. It was a quarterback conversation or nothing else, and so that’s what he got for a while – nothing. … I don’t want to really bust on him for going after [quarterback] until it was exhausted, but I think if he would have listened to teams before the [supplemental] draft, we might be talking about him being a top 10 receiver in the league right now. But he was stubborn and sacrificed some of his career. He probably sacrificed some money, too.”
That last part – Pryor’s stubbornness – is a common theme. One league source told Yahoo Sports that multiple NFL teams asked Pryor about moving to wideout after departing Ohio State. And several executives said he was asked again between NFL stops over the past several seasons, but that Pryor continually stated that he wanted a shot at a starting quarterback job. It ultimately undid him in Oakland and Seattle, where he was phased out of the plans. One league source said he wasn’t deemed the right “fit” for the Chiefs, while the Bengals’ hopes eventually faded on his developmental prospects.
It wasn’t until June of 2015, when Drew Rosenhaus, Pryor’s agent, informed teams that his client was making a dedicated move to wide receiver, that the door to some franchises was cracked open again. Even that came with reservations.
One team that worked out Pryor as a wide receiver still questioned his motivation at the position – specifically whether it was just a means to earning a paycheck.
“It was, ‘Is he just holding on, or is he going to really work hard at it,'” said one league source whose team worked out Pryor following the move to wideout but ultimately didn’t sign him. “For us – and I think it’s like this for most teams – there wasn’t a lot of time to wait around on him turning into a contributor. He needed to make up ground fast, and to be frank, there were some split opinions on him.”
The executive noted another thing that stuck in his mind: Pryor had once made remarks about questioning his love for football during his rookie season. And that was hard for this particular executive to forget.
Pryor told Sports Illustrated in 2012: “There was a point – and I know it seems crazy – but there was a point I was asking myself if I really loved this game anymore. That’s where I was at [emotionally]. Throughout the whole season I wasn’t playing, I wasn’t getting no love toward me. I just felt some type of way. I started questioning myself, even though I shouldn’t have. I was like, ‘Do I even love this game? Do I want to play this game? Is this what I want to do?'”
While Pryor was being honest, that’s the kind of thing that gets filed away – a 23-year-old player talking about getting “love” toward himself and also admitting questions about his passion for the game. That’s the kind of stuff that decision makers revisit down the line.
Thankfully for Pryor’s sake, time and rare skills provide for many NFL opportunities. That and the Browns needing to explore every talented player available have paid dividends for both. Where it goes after this depends on the remainder of Pryor’s season. But one thing is certain: Given another chance to sign him in free agency, the rest of the NFL won’t be turning its back on Pryor again.