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Canzano: Former NFL first-round pick reminds us nothing lasts forever
Alex Molden provides the wisdom.
The first round of the NFL Draft delivered on Thursday evening in a multitude of ways. Las Vegas provided the stage. Commissioner Roger Goodell served as host. A line of players and their celebrating families provided the joy.
But Alex Molden brought the late-night perspective.
The former NFL first-round draft pick reached out to me hours after the final pick of the first round. Something was on his mind and I think you ought to hear it.
Molden said, “You know it’s funny how people look at the draft. For most people it’s the beginning of a bright future… but no one ever looks at the other side of the equation.”
There was a lot to like on Thursday night. Four Pac-12 Conference players were drafted in the first round, the most in several years. Oregon Ducks’ coach Dan Lanning, who led the defense at Georgia, had five of his starters from last season selected in the opening round. And No. 5 overall pick, UO’s Kayvon Thibodeaux went to the New York Giants and will earn in the neighborhood of $36 million with his rookie contract.
“Some player,” Molden said, “is being put on notice.”
He was once one of them.
Molden was drafted No. 11 overall in 1996 by the New Orleans Saints. Five years later, he was an unrestricted free agent who signed a $17 million contract with the Chargers. The cornerback spent the bulk of that first season in San Diego on injured reserve, suiting up in only six games.
San Diego, coming off a disappointing 5-11 season, headed into the 2002 NFL Draft with a list of needs and the No. 5 pick. Everyone expected San Diego might focus on building the offensive and defensive lines. Instead, General Manager John Butler used his first-round pick to draft University of Texas star cornerback Quentin Jammer.
“It felt like Mike Tyson hit me in the gut,” Molden said.
The former Oregon star defensive back now works as a life coach and motivational speaker. One of his eight children, Elijah, was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the third round last year. The elder Molden also has a podcast and has written a book designed to help athletes and others make life transitions.
His most popular presentation is one he makes to corporate teams. Molden talks candidly about the arrival of Jammer in training camp and the stress it created. Overnight, he’d gone from star starter to potentially dispensable. Yet, Molden regrouped and played eight seasons in the NFL, something only two percent of players achieve.
How did he manage that?
“Willie Shaw, my position coach early in my career, told me three things that would help me have success in the league — alignment, assignment, and adjustment.
“I mastered these things.”
Molden believes they’re principles we could all learn from. It’s what he talks about when he speaks to large groups. For him, the Jammer pick wasn’t just a wake-up call. It was the moment of truth in his career.
Molden had spent the bulk of his college years in Eugene being told how valuable he was to the team. That was validated when the Saints used their first-round pick to select him. Also, when the Chargers threw a pile of money at him in free agency. In 2002, though, Molden was 28 years old and his employer was publicly signaling that he was expendable.
Molden said he went to work, using Shaw’s principles.
“I had to make sure I was aligned every play, know my assignment and the assignments of my teammates, and be ready for any and all adjustments.
“It helped me stay in the league.”
Molden was nearing the end of his career, but rallied and started 18 more games over the next two seasons before he retired. Jammer played 10 seasons with the Chargers. He became a mainstay in the San Diego secondary before being replaced himself.
Each of the 32 NFL teams has 53 players who make their active roster. Seven rounds of this draft will funnel an 263 additional players into the league. Also, each team will invite a number of undrafted players to training camp for a look. Those newcomers and returners will compete for exactly 1,696 active roster spots.
“The NFL is very humbling,” Molden said.
He tuned in on Thursday night to watch the first round of the draft. Thibodeaux went to the Giants early. A few picks later, USC wide receiver Drake London was selected by the Falcons. Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie went to Kansas City at No. 21 and the Jaguars traded up to No. 27 to pick Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd.
All of it, great and exciting for the Pac-12 players and their families.
Lanning, in his first season at Oregon, was a winner, too. He’ll be able to tell recruits and their parents that he coached five first-round NFL Draft picks. But I liked what Molden reminded us on Thursday night.
Molden mastered the basic principles. It kept him in the league and helped him transition to civilian life after football. But it didn’t prevent him from viewing Thursday night as a sobering scene. The first round was a reminder to 32 players currently on NFL rosters that nothing lasts forever.
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