Dezmen Southward, Jake Matthews and Tyler Starr talk about what they expect from the Rookie Symposium and adjusting from college too professional football. Video by Tanya Sichynsky

Falcons rookies getting advice on NFL life

Had Bernard Reedy been one of the 256 men drafted by NFL teams in May, Hall of Famer Cris Carter would share his perspective on his time in the league with the rookie at this week’s rookie symposium.

Instead, the undrafted free agent from Toledo looked to Carter’s nephew — Montreal Alouettes wide receiver Kenny Stafford, who also played at Toledo — for advice on the journey and challenges ahead.

Carter’s experience and that of the assemblage of speakers slated to take the stage in Aurora, Ohio, beginning Sunday is indispensable for the crop of the NFL’s most recent harvest. But for Reedy and the myriad of undrafted free agents like him, important lessons must come more informally.

“I had tips from a couple people,” said Reedy, a Falcons wide receiver. “(Phillipkeith) Manley, he played here (for the Falcons) two years ago as an undrafted free agent and Kenny Stafford (who played briefly for the Falcons). Unfortunately they got cut from the team, but they showed me the ropes and told me what I needed to look for.”

Much of what Manley and Stafford provided in guidance pertains to the often difficult transition from college to professional football — something the symposium aims to tackle head-on. The symposium curriculum includes presentations and workshops engineered based on the league’s core principles: Total Wellness, NFL History, Workplace Conduct and Professional Experience. What players with short-lived careers such as Stafford and tenured guys such as 2014 symposium speaker Warren Sapp can address is the sudden spike in income.

“Financially, I would say being able to trust somebody to manage your money if you can’t,” Reedy said about the responsibility he now expects after talking to the former Falcons.

Drafted Falcons rookies who received invitations to the symposium reiterated that money management is a top priority upon entering the league.

“There’s a lot of ways out there that people want to try and scheme off you, and you’re going to have people hitting you up for money that you haven’t talked to in forever,” said Tyler Starr, a seventh-round pick out of South Dakota.

“You’ve worked this hard for your money, use it wisely. They’re not going to tell you how to use it, but once it’s all gone, they’re not going to give you any more for free. It’s your money, do what you want with it, but they’re not going to be there to lean on when you’re broke on the street.”

The money rookies come into varies. Starr’s $2.265 million contract guarantees him only $45,896, whereas Jake Matthews, the sixth pick overall, signed a fully guaranteed $16.5 million contract and received a cool $10.3 million signing bonus. Either could squander his bank account during his career without proper direction.

“It’s a lot of things that goes on at the rookie symposium that helps out a lot of guys, just in terms of being more responsible, being accountable,” said Akeem Dent, a former Falcons linebacker now with the Houston Texans.

“It’s a lot of things that come your way family-wise, money, friends and everything like that, so it’s a lot of stuff that you have to be weary of because everybody’s trying to grab at your coattails. But at the same time you just have to make sure you have a good mindset … you have to be able to say ‘No.’”

“No,” is a word rookie running back Devonta Freeman finds himself becoming all too familiar with, be it to new friends that “come out the woodwork” or to hanging out in his old neighborhood. Although Freeman has plenty to learn about the business and will do so during the NFC’s symposium session from June 22-25, he’s eager to take advantage of the learning opportunities present in his own locker room, particularly from veteran Steven Jackson.

“I think he’s in his 11th year in the league?” Freeman asked rhetorically. Jackson is indeed entering his 11th season. “I want to know what it took for him to last this long. He’s a running back. Everybody’s saying running backs nowadays (last) three to four years. Obviously it’s possible you can do 10, 11 years. He did it.

“I just feel like anything is possible. I just want to learn everything that he knows, just continue to grow with him. He’s a great role model.”

Quarterback Matt Ryan, likely a role model to many Falcons rookies regardless of their position group, shared his own words of advice for his new teammates about prioritizing what happens on the field over what exists off of it.

“I think first and foremost is you have to concentrate on doing your job. There’s a lot of other things that get thrown at you when you come into this league,” Ryan said. “As a rookie it can be overwhelming. But I think you have to remember why you have all the opportunities in other areas, and it’s because of what you do on the field. My biggest (advice) would be just remain focused on playing well and doing what you need to do in terms of your preparation to be able to go out there and be successful.”

Having finished 4-12 last season, the Falcons are a team whose success can be influenced considerably by its rookies should they keep the end goal in clear sight. Safety Dezmen Southward said he plans to listen intently and leave the symposium more knowledgeable than when he entered. Even so, veterans gave Southward a rather simple recipe for rookie success.

“… Make sure you’re there, first of all, be on time and don’t fall asleep.”

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