Jake Locker’s been extraordinary from the start. So maybe we should have expected him to defy convention, to be above the lure of immediate gratification, to be immune to the human nature that would motivate most of us to grab for millions of dollars if laid on the table in front of us.
But the University of Washington quarterback announced Monday that he would not jump toward a lucrative contract in the NFL because he wants to return to UW for his final season of eligibility.
In so doing, he made a number of statements. But the most compelling – and I hope its range extends beyond just sports fans and readers of this section – is that there are achievements in life that engender rewards greater than money.
To gauge the significance of Locker’s decision, let’s look at some numbers.
An ESPN analyst just listed Locker as the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft if he decided to come out. The most recent No. 1 pick, Matt Stafford, a quarterback taken by Detroit, landed a $72 million contract that included $41 million in guarantees.
That would be at least $41 million for Locker to sign his name.
Even if he were only a top-five pick, and most seem to see that as likely, Locker would be in for something in the neighborhood of Mark Sanchez’s $28 million guaranteed as last spring’s No. 5 pick.
The risks? Injury, of course. It’s a violent game … especially the way Locker plays it, although he will be insured against an injury to assure financial security.
But there is another variable here. The NFL is about to enter a new phase of contract limitations that are expected to reduce guarantees for rookies.
The thing about Locker is that he doesn’t care.
His father, Scott, told KJR-AM radio on Monday afternoon that Locker did not even wait to hear the report from the NFL draft advisory committee on where he was projected to go in the draft before deciding he wanted no part of it.
It didn’t matter to him … even if he were expected to be the No. 1 pick and there would be no possibility of ever landing a larger rookie salary. He still wouldn’t go.
The implications for UW are enormous. From a practical standpoint, after a 5-7 season showed that the team had bounced off the canvas from an 0-12 season, the return of Locker seems to almost guarantee bowl-eligibility and perhaps a great deal more.
In a more general sense, his return is a testimonial for the new staff and coach Steve Sarkisian. The direction they have the program headed convinced Locker that next season was worthy of his return.
That speaks loudly to teammates, fans, boosters and, not insignificantly, to recruits.
The ramifications for Locker? Even the greatest admirer of his physical gifts will acknowledge that he can improve in areas, particularly becoming a polished and consistent passer.
Locker, already assured to be remembered by UW fans far into the future, has now positioned himself for something far more significant. By coming back, and perhaps by being largely responsible for leading the program back to relevance, Locker easily could turn himself into a Huskies legend.
If he hasn’t already.
As we are required to do in the media, we try to anticipate these decisions and weigh the options.
Frankly, it seemed to make sense that he would opt for the draft.
Even if he had no worries about injury and a year from now he could have his degree, the fiscal variables regarding the impending NFL collective bargaining agreement made this an iffy move.
But Locker seems driven by the desire to spend another season with his teammates, to continue to help a beleaguered program get back on its feet, and to improve on his skills so that he might be better prepared next season when he finally does go in the draft.
This guy makes me feel small that it seemed so obvious that he would leap.
Consider him a rare individual, and that’s got nothing to do with his ability to run and pass and lead his team.
So, regardless of your rooting interests, we’re left to wish this guy luck. This kind of decision deserves to be rewarded.
And as Jake Locker reminded us on Monday, there are many kinds of rewards that are not associated with a paycheck.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440