It’s the start of a new football season. Week 1 of the college football season is in the books, and Week 1 of the NFL season looms large next week. But this season feels different than past seasons. News of player retirements and transfers are dominating the headlines.
The rise in transfers and early retirements signals a fundamental shift in football. Unlike in the past, players will prioritize their own interests instead of the team’s.
This is a topic that will likely hit home for many of my fellow Georgia fans. Promising quarterbacks Justin Fields and Jacob Eason, who originally committed to Georgia, both had stellar debuts for Ohio State and Washington, respectively. And they were not alone. Other transfer quarterbacks like Kelly Bryant, Hunter Johnson and Jalen Hurts started for new teams over the weekend.
The rise in transfers is not just limited to quarterbacks, either. According to the NCAA, the Football Bowl Subdivision transfer rate has been increasing for years, reaching 13.6% in 2018, compared to 11.2% in 2010.
NFL players are taking control, too. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck shocked the league by announcing his retirement at 29 years old. According to FiveThirtyEight, Luck is in nigh unprecedented territory. He may be the greatest quarterback to leave the NFL willingly without ever playing in his 30s.
Other players have made similar decisions. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski ended his career in March after struggling with injuries for years. In 2016, wide receiver Calvin Johnson quit football when he was 30 years old, saying football’s physical toll drove him away. And, last year, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell never signed a contract with the team after demanding greater compensation to protect his long-term value.
These examples point to a new reality in the relationship between teams and players. In an age when player safety concerns have grown, players will now act in greater self-interest, casting aside old concepts of loyalty and responsibility to the team.
Predicting the effects of this shift is difficult. Perhaps players will join together and bargain for better safety standards. Maybe they will continue to try to make as much money as fast as possible so they can leave before sustaining more serious damage to their bodies. They could also add to the intensifying debate over paying college athletes — a debate that has even garnered some attention from the likes of presidential candidate Andrew Yang.
One thing is clear, however. Football players at both the collegiate and professional levels have gained a newfound willingness to put themselves before the team, and the game will be better because of it.