There are two myths in the NFL surrounding rookies and their interactions with veterans. Both of these myths are intertwined and need some honest discussion. The first is that rookies should watch out for veterans because they are out to sabotage them. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
I can’t speak for an older generation of players, but now veterans are welcoming to rookies and are generally amused by them. They are open to helping them and want everyone to succeed.
The second myth is that veterans must mentor younger players who are direct competition to them. False. This needs some further explanation.
There’s nothing wrong about Joe Flacco’s stance on mentoring
Flacco said his job is to prepare himself for the season and that he’s not going out of his way to mentor Lock:
Joe Flacco addressed the media for the first time since the Broncos drafted Drew Lock. Attached are his responses to questions if it's his job to mentor Lock.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) May 13, 2019
"I hope he does develop. But I don’t look at that as my job. My job is to go win football games for this football team." pic.twitter.com/Sw8bKdEOzW
I love Flacco’s honesty, and there’s nothing wrong with his attitude at all. It’s NOT a requirement that veteran players expend the time and energy to mentor younger players at their position, especially ones who are competing for their job.
Flacco isn’t the first quarterback to make these comments. In 2005, after Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre said this about mentoring Rodgers.
“My contract doesn’t say I have to get Aaron Rodgers ready to play,” Favre said, via Aaron Nagler. “Now hopefully he watches me and gets something from that.”
Favre later said, “There is no clause that says ‘You groom the next guy who’s going to take your job, or else.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
Favre said the quiet part out loud and was more blunt than Flacco. Both men are correct. Their job is getting ready to play each week and keeping the routine that’s made them successful.
Even though Flacco isn’t heading into this season with the mindset of being Lock’s mentor, that doesn’t mean Flacco won’t help Lock. Their relationship won’t be toxic, as people tend to believe if the veteran isn’t openly mentoring a younger player. If Lock has questions for Flacco, or wants to know why things are done a certain way, Flacco will answer those questions within the flow of his routine.
What Flacco isn’t going to do is stay later to help Lock or make the extra effort to teach Lock the position if it deters from getting Flacco ready. Lock will be able to study Flacco’s routine. Learning how to prepare to play each week, whether it’s mental or physical, is one of the most important lessons a rookie can learn in his first season, and you can soak all that up no matter what.
But the Alex Smith approach can be beneficial too
While I agree with the mindset of Flacco, having a mentor who wants to help young players is still immeasurably valuable, especially at the quarterback position with how detailed it can be. The best example of what Flacco could be doing is Alex Smith.
Smith has twice taken on the task to mentor a younger player who later took his job: Colin Kaepernick with the 49ers and then Patrick Mahomes with the Chiefs. Terez Paylor of Yahoo Sports has an excellent writeup on the latter relationship. Smith entered his relationship with Mahomes expecting to mentor him. Smith went out of his way to help Mahomes learn defenses, prepare weekly, and get ready for his eventual starting job.
I had mentors in my rookie season, and beyond, who helped me become the player I was. Now, the difference between me and a quarterback drafted high to one day start was that I presented no competition to any veteran linemen.
But anyway, my mentor, Jordan Gross, took the extra steps to help me. He pulled me aside early in my career and changed my stance. He, along with other veterans, took me under their wing in the weight room. They taught me what I need to focus on and how to prepare my body. I came in early with them in the morning to watch film and learn the ins and outs of the mental side of the game. Lastly, they taught me how to enjoy playing the game, how we can work hard and enjoy doing it.
While having a direct mentor can be valuable, it’s not a must. I agree with how Flacco is approaching this situation with Lock, and just being around Flacco will help Lock succeed.