The NFL is a different world. Sure, that seems like something that goes without saying, but it’s true. It’s really easy to look at NFL players—or all pro athletes—and see a spoke in the wheel. It’s easy to look at these people as if they’re not real.
I mean really think about it. We all work our normal nine-to-fives and we look at that life and believe that’s the life of a real humans. We’re not on TV and we don’t have millions of dollars in our bank account. It’s really easy to look at these guys and think they all have it easy and live a fantasy life.
But that’s not case. NFL players live in the same world as we do and have the same problems as we do. Only on top of that, they have to juggle a profession that exposes them and holds them to standards that I certainly can’t fathom having to live up to.
I wanted to know a little more about this. This summer I sort of made it a goal to to see what life is like for NFL players as humans rather than humans with extraordinary athletic gifts. A couple months ago, I told the story of three different NFL players and what it’s like to deal with mental illness in and be a professional athlete at the same time.
Today I wanted to learn about something different. Today we’re going to talk about what it’s like to be traded or released and how that affects a player’s psyche, his home situation and even how it can affect their performance on future teams.
Recently I spoke with Washington Redskins linebacker Marquis Flowers about this topic. Lions fans will remember Marquis for his stint in Detroit. When the Lions signed him back in early September, it was billed as a no-brainer move. Flowers had been very public about his love of Lions head coach Matt Patricia, and Detroit had a big need for a veteran linebacker with knowledge of the Lions’ new defense to go with their star-in-the-making Jarrad Davis. Flowers was also coming off a promising season with the New England Patriots.
But things didn’t work out in Detroit. In fact, Flowers only spent five games with the Lions and barely saw the field—12 defensive snaps in the opener and a handful of special teams reps for five weeks. He wound up being released during Detroit’s early Week 6 bye. At the time, it was unclear what exactly went wrong, but Flowers recently went to Twitter to open up about his brief stint in Detroit.
I owe Detroit an apology and they shouldn’t want me back! I wasn’t myself but I’ll play for Matty P given the opportunity https://t.co/1MJQKkNg3F— Marquis Flowers (@MFlowers59) July 6, 2019
Marquis also went on to say that he was in a dark place and that he really enjoyed the Lions organization and that he would play for Matt Patricia again if given the chance.
So what happened? Why was he in a dark place?
Turns out, it had a lot to do with the Patriots releasing him and how that went down that affected Flowers.
After having a career year with the Patriots in 2017 where Flowers saw a good amount of playing time for the first time in his career—and even got a shot at the Super Bowl—Flowers decided it was time to test the free agent market with the idea of bettering his family’s life.
“Free agency is a period of life-changing times,” Flowers told me over a phone call. “You don’t know what you’re going to get. Obviously contract wise and money wise, I never really was huge on that. But I also never really had an opportunity to play until that year so I’m figuring, you know, I can help my team win. Obviously you play the game, you can change your family’s life. You know, my mom, buying her a house is my number one goal still to this day.”
Marquis said that once he hit free agency, his initial plan was to go to Detroit because he wanted to continue to play for Matt Patricia. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out and Flowers found himself without a deal. Not wanting to leave New England for a team that wasn’t interested, he started to entertain the idea of staying with the Patriots.
“Bill (Belichick) called me, (Patriots Special Teams coach Cameron) Achord called me and it was just one of those moments where I don’t want to leave something that I got to after being a guy that was overlooked in Cincinnati and never used. And then go to New England and I’m starting to play and I wanted to go back and I still needed to get better. I felt that. So I decided to go back for a year.”
After the Patriots recruited Flowers to come back to New England, the team released him in the final round of cuts. This frustrated Flowers, who was also injured at the time. He did say it was his fault as a young player who was just trying to be tough.
“It’s a business. You gotta be ready,” Flowers said. “You could be here today and gone tomorrow and you know that. Me, personally, I saw it coming and it still bothered me because my whole thing was like, ‘Why would y’all call me?’ It’s a business. They did the best thing they could do for the Patriots. I can’t be mad at that. My whole thing was why? Like why did I get done the way I got done?”
Flowers brought that frustration with him to Detroit, and he believes that it contributed to his short stint with the team and his play and attitude while with the team.
“Matty P called and they get me to Detroit, I was happy to see Matty P. But I was just not myself,” Flowers said. “I was still frustrated, I was still mad, blindsided. Now I got this kinda, I wouldn’t say anger, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder but it was more like a vengeful thing. It was bad. I wasn’t in a good place. I wasn’t very coachable. I went to Detroit expecting stuff instead of working for it, and that’s the first time in my career I think I’ve ever done that.”
Marquis talked about how he knew the defense and just wanted to go out and help the team win. But while Matt Patricia knew what he could do, the rest of the coaching staff didn’t and there were players already on the roster that had been working to get their spot. When things were not working out on the field as fast as he’d hoped, things only got worse for Marquis in Detroit.
“I honestly just went into a shell and it honestly had nothing to do with, it was really just more that I was mad,” Flowers admitted. “I think Matt Patricia knew that. I wasn’t myself. I needed to get back to who I am. That’s why I said I was in a dark place because it was like anytime you wake up and you mad and you’re doing what you love and you’re mad and it’s rubbing off. I’m pretty sure a lot of people on Detroit’s staff think I’m an asshole, and it bothers me every day. I didn’t handle things in Detroit as a professional like I normally do.
“I didn’t give them what Matt Patricia said I could give them. He brought me over on his word, and I just feel like that was a disappointment on my behalf. I don’t blame them for saying we’re gonna go our separate ways.”
On October 10, the Lions released Flowers after things weren’t working out. Flowers said Patricia came to him Monday morning of the bye week and the two sides mutually agreed to part ways. Patricia noticed he was struggling on film and had conversations with him about his struggles, but with an injury and frustration continuing to mount, Flowers found himself without a team. That continued to take a toll on Flowers mentality.
“That’s when I learned that depression and all that is real,” Flowers said. “I never really dealt with it. Obviously, I had adversity. Everyone has adversity. I get it. But that was more like going to training camp and working to try to get better everyday and hearing positive and then getting cut out of nowhere and not getting to the opportunity to even show what I can do or if I even got better. And then I got a whole family back home. I just had a baby. Now they’re out there wondering what’s happening? Now I gotta put them on a plane, and I didn’t have nothing under control.
“It was bothering me more than I was letting off, because if you ask me ,I would always say ‘I’m good. I good.’ I had to really sit back and look at myself and say, ‘You’re not good. I be trippin,’ you know?
“I had to sit out most of that year. So I went from having the best year of my career to the very next year. Sitting out for basically a whole season. I lost my way.”
Imagine being fired from your day job. Most of us have experienced it, but most of us can’t say we’ve been fired and then immediately had to get on a plane with our family to start a new job in a new state without truly knowing the status of your stability when you get there. Flowers has been through it and it’s not easy.
“It’s tough man,” Flowers said. “I got a great girlfriend. I got three kids. She does a great job with them. It’s just going to her, the thing I felt so bad about is that she actually loved Detroit. We got a place to stay out there and we unpacked the full house. I kept trying to tell her and get in her head that we might not be here. But she thought I was just talking.
“Your agent knows so he’s calling other teams. It’s hard telling your girlfriend you know, hey, we gotta pack the house back up, move and do that whole thing. And I hate moving. She does a lot of the work and I still hate it.
“It’s a process, man. You got teams calling who might be interested, you got workouts. It’s a whole different thing where you gotta keep flying and go different places. Sometimes people call and are like, ‘We wanna pick him up right now.’ You never know where you’re gonna end up.
That uncertainty can be uncomfortable at best and completely draining at worst. Going through that adversity could easily break a person, but maintaining a positive attitude is key.
“It’s not a good feeling, but it’s a business,” Flowers said. “You gotta believe in yourselves at all times and be ready. That’s the hardest thing is being ready. That was the hardest thing last year. Just every day waiting on a phone call and everybody keeps saying be ready. You keep thinking I might go here or I might go here and then you don’t go. You keep wearing down and right when you get comfortable and think you’re done, you get a phone call saying, ‘Hey we want you here.’ It’s a process. But you know it’s a process that a lot players deal with, have dealt with. There’s guys who have stories that’s worse than mine.”
Marquis is doing better today. The Redskins signed Flowers to a two-year deal just before the 2018 season ended. He says he’s that same hungry player he was in New England again and the time he spent away from football in 2018 helped him get healthy and overcome the frustration he felt in Detroit. He’s ready to get back on track in Washington in 2019.