While Tyler Bray might be crushed at being ignored by the draft, his dream of playing in the NFL shouldn’t be.
The NFL is filled with stories of undrafted free agents beating the odds, winning jobs and, in some cases, becoming stars.
I wonder if Bray, the talented but not universally embraced quarterback who left Tennessee after his junior year, has gotten a chin-up call from Arian Foster yet.
Like Bray, Foster produced impressive stats at UT — he left as No. 2 all-time in rushing yards — but went undrafted in 2009. He signed as a free agent with Houston and has played in the Pro Bowl the past three seasons.
Fine, but isn’t it harder for a quarterback to make it as a free agent?
Fair question, and I thought the answer would be yes. On further review, I’m not so sure it is.
Anybody heard of Kurt Warner or Warren Moon?
Both eventually became stars of the highest order. The key word is eventually.
Warner first had to labor in the Arena Football League. Moon had to prove himself for six years in Canada.
Would Bray have the perseverance to polish his craft in the minor leagues? That can’t be answered yet.
Warner and Moon are the best known free-agent quarterback success stories, but far from the only ones.
Jeff Garcia made the jump from Canada to the NFL and played in four Pro Bowls.
Dave Krieg played 19 years and passed for 38,000 yards. In a previous era, Jim Hart was a fixture for the St. Louis Cardinals. He played 19 years and went to four Pro Bowls.
Jim Zorn was once the NFC offensive rookie of the year in Seattle. Jake Delhomme went from a practice squad and NFL Europe to quarterbacking the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl.
Then there’s Tony Romo. He signed with Dallas after nobody drafted him, hung around a couple of years and snatched the starting job.
Bray would certainly be thrilled to follow Romo’s example. He has signed with Kansas City and has a fighting chance to stick as the third quarterback. And it’s not as if Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are ahead of him on the Chiefs’ depth chart. Try Alex Smith and Chase Daniel.
But if Bray doesn’t make it, he’ll hardly be the first Vol QB to seek employment in the real world. You’ll never hear Tennessee described as “Quarterback U” when it comes to the NFL.
There’s Manning and not much else.
It’s a curious deal. By and large, UT has had very good quarterback play over the years. It hasn’t, for whatever reasons, translated to the NFL.
Pat Ryan and Bobby Scott, 1970s era Vols, enjoyed long NFL careers, primarily as backups. Between them, they accumulated 22 years, but only 33 starts. It’s good work if you can get it, though.
Heath Shuler struggled through four injury-riddled years. Dewey Warren played one year. Tee Martin appeared in three games, Jeff Francis one.
Erik Ainge’s try with the Jets never got off the ground. Jonathan Crompton has bounced around practice squads. Matt Simms has been cut once by the Jets but is trying again.
Andy Kelly became an Arena icon. Condredge Holloway became a Canadian icon. Alan Cockrell played baseball. Tony Robinson went to jail. Casey Clausen went into business.
Now it’s Bray’s turn. Granted, he’s starting in a hole.
But history shows that if he has the right stuff, he can dig out of it.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.