Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rich's Blog: Thigpen's perfect storm

Coastal Carolina's football locker room has the look of an NFL locker room. Normally, there's the chaos of a hundred athletes occupying the space. During the summer months, everything is quiet. There's no dirty towels, no athletic tape stuck to the floor. Last week, we hosted our high school media day there. I entered the room and took in the serenity. I had never really been in there without any hustle and bustle. I thought I was alone. After spending a good minute unloading my camera gear, I saw someone in the far left corner sitting in a locker stall with a towel draped over his head. It was Tyler Thigpen.

The NFL might have been locked out, but Thigpen was not. You would think that the NFL quarterback working out at his alma mater would have fanfare, an entourage or a "look at me" attitude, but Thigpen blended into the background in the empty locker room. His humbleness, work ethic and quiet leadership are why he's respected by teammates and revered at Coastal for being the first "legend" in the program's history.

Playing quarterback in the NFL is getting thrown into the fire. There are endless scenarios that play out in a quarterback's mind during one play and he has seconds to pull the trigger and live with the decision. Throughout his NFL career, Thigpen has been thrown into intense situations with little time to prepare. On Monday night, it happened again. When the NFL lockout ended on Monday, four months of off season activity were about to be condensed into four days. Before the lockout, Thigpen was ready to return to Miami as a restricted free agent, but thanks to the new labor deal he was on the open market.

The dominoes were going to fall quickly on Tuesday when free agency began. Joel Turner, Tyler's agent, got the phone calls right away. Six teams in all: Miami, Tennessee, Washington, Arizona, Minnesota and Buffalo. It became a two horse race. The Vikings and the Bills. Minnesota drafted him in 2007 and tried to sneak him on the practice squad before the Kansas City Chiefs snapped him up. It was said that head coach Brad Childress was furious that Thigpen slipped through the cracks. Buffalo's head coach, Chan Gailey, was the man who retooled the Kansas City Chiefs offense to fit Thigpen's ability to work out of the spread and become the NFL's leading rusher for quarterbacks in 2008.

Minnesota has Christian Ponder, a rookie from Florida State who may or may not be ready to step in on week one. The Bills have Ryan Fitzpatrick who is the starter for sure in 2011, but has just one year remaining on his current contract. The first phone call Chan Gailey made when the NFL was back open for business was to Tyler Thigpen. And now, in his Myrtle Beach home, Tyler Thigpen was in the pocket. Not the pocket he was used to, but the pocket that was his career. In a normal off-season, Thigpen might have had a little time to mull things over and make a move. But, the free agency quarterback merry go round was in full effect and he had to pull the trigger. On late Monday night, Thigpen made his decision. He became a Buffalo Bill. Quarterbacks survive on instinct. It was instinct that ultimately led Tyler Thigpen to Western New York.

Gailey has brought the Kansas City offense to Buffalo. Learning an NFL offense is like speaking another language. Thig will know the terminology and get up to speed quickly. He'll be reunited with the person who made him a fantasy football dream in 2008.

Thigpen hasn't had the breaks go his way in his NFL career. He played much better than his 1-10 record as a starter in Kansas City (six losses by seven points or less). He had just two days to prepare for a Thursday night start against the Bears last year in Miami. He's gotten endorsements from two of the biggest names in the game (Tony Gonzalez and Brandon Marshall), yet is branded as a "wild stallion" or someone who can't be a starter in the NFL.

But the new labor contract opened the door for something that is rare for a non-superstar in the NFL: leverage. In a free agent market where Matt Hasselbeck was the top QB name, Thigpen was a commodity. It gave Tyler two things - a choice of where he wants to play and a handsome pay raise.

The terms of the deal have not been announced, but he's gone from the $500,000 per year range to probably six times that amount. If you woke up tomorrow and you found out you had gotten a 600 percent pay raise, what would you do? I think some type of celebration would be in order. What did Tyler Thigpen do? His contract was done just before 11pm on Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, Thigpen was zipping balls in the Adkins Fieldhouse weight room to former CCU wide recevier Marquel Wilis and he was back in that same empty locker room. He's ready to blend in the background at Buffalo.