If anyone is qualified to offer advice on how to keep an NFL dream alive, it’s P.J. Fleck.
Fleck, the Northern Illinois wide receivers coach, went from undrafted rookie free agent out of NIU to play two seasons (2004-05) with the San Francisco 49ers.
With former NIU wideouts Britt Davis and Matt Simon recently signing rookie free agent deals with the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints respectively, Fleck has imparted some of his wisdom and experience to Davis and Simon.
“The best advice I can give them is work as hard as they possibly can,” Fleck said. “Go beyond anything you’ve ever done. Don’t leave anything out there. You only get one shot so you’re not saving yourself for anything.”
Davis signed a rookie free agent deal with the Jets a day after the NFL Draft and Simon earned a deal with the Saints after impressing the coaches at a tryout at the team’s mini-camp this past weekend.
The Saints cut two rookie free agents they previously had signed to make room for Simon and two other players. While it was great for Simon that the Saints made room for him, it was a direct reminder of how fragile job status is in the NFL.
“You’ll see a lot of people get cut, don’t ever give them a reason to cut you,” Fleck said. “It’s a business and they can find someone who can do your job and do it for cheaper they will. It’s the same way in the business world.”
Simon had three days in New Orleans to make or break his dream.
He arrived on a Thursday and had his first meeting that night. Friday, he saw his name for the first time on an NFL team’s depth chart.
It was last.
“It was kind of discouraging to see that,” Simon said. “I knew going in nothing would be easy.”
By the end of the first practice, Simon made his way to the first group.
Sunday, wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson approached Simon and said he wanted to talk to the wideout. Simon thought he had done something wrong.
“He told me to be smart out there and don’t get hurt because he told coach [Sean] Payton to sign me to a contract,” Simon said.
At the point, he still couldn’t believe it until he actually signed the deal.
“Since I signed it, I haven’t been able to wipe that smile off my face,” Simon said.
After he did, he sent a text to his mom – it was Mother’s Day after all – and after that he called Fleck.
“He basically just told me you got your foot in the door,” Simon said. “It can all be taken away just as fast. It’s a process now. I have to go into camp and earn my keep around there.
“But there’s no reason why I can’t stay down there a couple of years.”
John Sahly is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org