The sheer amount of players that create a recognizable NFL career is ridiculously small. For every starter, or name that you instantly recognize (without the help of Google), there are dozens, if not hundreds, that leave the NFL within months of attempting this unbelievably tough venture every year. No longer an enterprise that can be defined as a sport, the NFL is a business and it's a cold business at that. Salary cap damage, roster bonuses, are used as arguments to sit a player in a room to explain that "it's me, not you." And sometimes, no matter how talented you are, those opportunities just never happen.
Yet, for the briefest of moments, dreams are realized when that first step blocks a closing door. The practice squad can often be used for a Cinderella story to make the 53-man roster.
It can also be indicative of a career that's going nowhere.
It didn't appear Bengals quarterback Greg McElroy was long for the NFL world. After two seasons with the New York Jets and one with the Cincinnati Bengals, the signing of Jason Campbell added to the unlikely event that McElroy will rise on the proverbial depth chart. Campbell will likely backup starting quarterback Andy Dalton while Josh Johnson and Zac Robinson meander on a roster that might not include them in September. There's also a belief that Cincinnati will draft a quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds of the 2014 NFL draft. McElroy called it quits.
"Thank you to Marvin Lewis, the Brown family, and the entire Cincinnati Bengals organization," McElroy tweeted on Friday. "The fans make this decision especially difficult, as you have provided so much joy throughout my career. Playing in the NFL was my lifelong dream; therefore, I must also thank the New York Jets for providing me with my original opportunity. The future is bright, and exciting things on the horizon."
Cincinnati announced his released soon after.
McElroy has other gifts that will lead to other passions in a post-football career. Scoring a 43 on his Wonderlic promoted an intelligence that dates as far back as kindergarten, where he was placed in a gifted program. A Rhodes Scholar with a 4.0 GPO at Alabama, where he won a National Championship, McElroy has thought about attending law school and having a possible future in politics.
"McElroy’s ambitions are not limited to the league," writes Kevin Armstrong in '12. "He has spoken about possibly attending law school in the offseason. He regularly tracks politics, which his father refers to as a 'huge passion.' A conservative Republican, the son suffered through an uncommon losing streak when Mitt Romney lost to President Barack Obama in early November and Alabama was upended by Texas A&M four days later. The Jets lost to the Seahawks that Sunday."
During an interview prior to the 2011 NFL draft, where he was selected in the seventh round by the New York Jets, McElroy talked about alternatives if football didn't workout.
"I kinda thought about potentially doing politics maybe," McElroy said. "I’ve thought about potentially doing entrepreneurial activities. At the same time, I mean, broadcasting and being around sports is something that I’ve always cared about. I don’t care what it may be, I just want to be involved in sports. I want to be around sports. I genuinely cherish football, baseball, basketball -- I love them all. As long as I’m involved in sports in one way or another, then I can be happy at the end of the day."
In a way, McElroy was lucky to realize that the NFL didn't hold much of a future for him. Instead, he applied his intelligence. and left the game at age 25 to kick-start another future.