In an exclusive interview with SportsLens, NFL Hall of Famer Kevin Mawae said that he believes the Indianapolis Colts will win the AFC South with Sam Ehlinger at quarterback.
Currently the Colts’ offensive line coach, Mawae also commented on Matt Ryan’s benching saying, “It’s [his] job to help the team win… Offer support to the next guy up and be a leader in the locker room.”
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Here are the highlights of the interview.
- Colts will win the AFC South with Sam Ehlinger
- Matt Ryan benching is best move for the team
- Jets should trade Elijah Moore if he becomes a distraction
- NFL settled to not disclose concussion data in 2011
- Tom Brady deserves more credit than Bill Belichick
- LSU’s season depends on beating Alabama
- Jonathan Taylor draws comparison to Curtis Martin
- Colts offensive line still has a long way to go
- Zach Wilson has swagger to become franchise QB
- Guard is the most underrated position in the NFL
- LSU needs to land a quarterback
- Concussions will always be part of the game
- 100% of NFL players will leave the game hurt
Kevin Mawae: Anytime you’re in a role, such as the quarterback in the NFL, your job is to do whatever it takes to help the team win. Matt’s a veteran player, he’s been around for a long, long time, offering support to the next guy up and being a leader in the locker room. Everybody here has a lot of respect for him, for what he’s done since he’s been here and what he’s done throughout his career.
It’s just a matter of transitioning and getting everybody on the same page. We’ve got a great team, great leadership not just with him but with our leadership council. It’s something that we’ll know he’ll handle professionally and he has done so up to this point. Ultimately everybody’s goal is to win a game, that’s what he’ll do, he’ll help us win games in whichever way he can.
Kevin Mawae: Obviously, he won the rushing title last year. He is one of the best running backs in the NFL. I’ve played with a great one myself with Curtis Martin, I’ve had conversations with Jonathan that I believe he’s similar to Curtis in the way he runs the ball. He’s got a little more speed than Curtis did but the sky’s the limit for him.
For a running back that gets the majority of the carries throughout the game and throughout the season, taking care of his body should be top priority, which he does. For us, just opening holes on the offensive lines and giving him opportunities to make the second level defenders miss. He’s coming off of injury, had a decent game last week, we expect him to get better as the season goes on.
Kevin Mawae: The secret’s out, we run the football and everybody wants to stop our running game with Jonathan Taylor. Obviously, he’s been banged up a little bit, our offensive line we’ve had some moving parts, trying to find the best combination. It’s always about the best five guys, it’s about the best fit for the combination of guys that we use. We feel pretty good about where we are at now. We had a decent outing two weeks ago, we threw the ball 58 times and gave up no sacks, which was a step forward for our group. Last week, Jonathan Taylor carried the ball himself, however many times, but he averaged 5.8 yards a rush. There’s things there that we’ve improved upon but we still have a ways to go. We want to get one percent better everyday. That is what our philosophy is, that is what our goal is.
Nick: The Colts are 3-3-1 heading into this week. What does Indianapolis have to do to overtake the Titans in the AFC South?
Kevin Mawae: We just have to worry about ourselves, we can’t worry about what the Titans do, they’re a good team. Unfortunately we lost to them this past weekend but all we have to do is worry about ourselves and not worry about the Titans. There’s a long season left, there’s a lot of games to be played, we’re going into Week 8, so there’s still 9 games after this. It’s just one game at a time.
Nick: With the Colts changing quarterbacks already, do you see Indianapolis having a new starter at quarterback in 2023?
Kevin Mawae: I don’t know, we’re trying to get through 2022 first. The way this whole system is built, in order to get the first rounder, the first round pick or whoever the top quarterback is in the top of the league, typically you have to be at the top of the draft list and we don’t want to be there at the end of the year. But that’s a long ways off and it’s not something I concern myself with, it’s not in my wheelhouse, I don’t have a say in that decision. My expertise lies in the offensive line and trying to find us some guys up front.
Nick: When the O-Line is giving up a lot of sacks or there’s some holes in the run game, what do you do as an offensive line coach to help patch things up?
Kevin Mawae: I think the first thing is you have to understand where the problems lie. Is it a physical match up? Is it a schematic match up? That’s what we are trying to determine. If it’s a schematic thing then we have to do better as coaches to come up with a better game plan. If it’s a physical thing or we just know that the guy’s not as good as we need him to be then we either need to coach him up or in this business, you find someone else that can do it.
Ultimately it’s about guys winning their 1-on-1s across the whole line and the team not just on the offensive line. Pass protection has a lot more to do than just protecting the quarterback, guys have to run the right routes, you have to get open, the quarterback has to see where the holes are. So pass protection is a team goal, not just an offensive line goal. Obviously, without a doubt we want to keep our quarterback clean as much as possible.
Nick: What are your impressions of the Jets following their 5-2 start?
Kevin Mawae: Yeah because we don’t play against them, I haven’t scouted them, I don’t really watch them much. I do know that Saleh’s doing a great job of turning that program around because I was there for so long, I try to stay somewhat in tune of what’s going on there but they are definitely doing well, the quarterback is playing well right now. I’m happy for their success, I just hope that we don’t have to worry about where their standings are for us to get into the playoffs. I’ll be fine with anybody beating any AFC team that they play against to make it a little easier for us to get into the playoffs.
Kevin Mawae: I think he’s got the moxy, he’s got the bravado that you’d hope that your quarterback would have. Time will tell, I know the New York Jets believe that they have a franchise quarterback or else they wouldn’t have drafted him where they did. Like I said, only time will tell, you’ll look back on his career and his record there, that’s how you’ll determine if he was the guy.
Nick: How does Breece Hall’s injury impact the Jets’ offense?
Kevin Mawae: Well anytime you have your starting running back go down like that and he’s out for the year, somebody is going to have to step up. You hope the next guy up is in tune with what they do as a staff and what they do as a system. If not, you have to change that offensive scheme to fit what’s best for their personnel or go find a guy that fits with what they are doing. This league is all about being ready when your opportunity comes and whoever that next guy is, their team is counting on him to be able to do the job just as well if not better than the guy that was in front of them.
Nick: Does James Robinson help the Jets in the hunt for the AFC East?
Kevin Mawae: I couldn’t tell you. The thing about this business, it’s a team game, not one guy is going to make a difference. I think the only position that really does make a huge difference is who your quarterback is. But everybody has a role to play, everybody has to do their job individually in order for the team to work at the maximum potential. So, bringing Robinson in there, they wouldn’t have brought him in if they didn’t think he was the guy to help them take the next step. Again, you’ll look back 3-4 weeks from now, see what impact he’s had on that team and everybody will make that determination.
Kevin Mawae: I’m unfamiliar with it but the generality of it when a teammate asks for a trade, there’s always a rule as a player, keep your mind and hand out of somebody else’s pocket book. Players that go in that direction, they are doing what they believe is best for them and as a teammate you don’t ever really question it. You’re just kind like it is what it is, whether he’s here or not, we still have a job to do. If we think he can help the team, we hope he can stay but if he becomes a distraction, he has to go. That’s the mentality of the players in the locker room or used to be, I don’t know what is now. At the end of the day, he has to do what’s best for him in this business.
Nick: What do you think of the job that Mike Vrabel has done in Tennessee?
Kevin Mawae: Vrabel has done a really good job. He’s done a great job, it’s a sound football team, they play sound situation ball. That’s what they are really good at, understanding the situation and playing situational ball. I think having played against Vrabel over the course of my career, where he came from and now as coach I’ve played against him three times now, they are a team that tries not to beat themselves and they take advantage of the things you do. Last week we had two turnovers, they scored 13 points off two turnovers, that made a difference in the game for us. When you play sound and fundamental football and another team messes up somewhere, you capitalize on it. That’s what he’s been able to do, not just against us but in all the wins he’s had.
Nick: Are you looking to join head coaching ranks at all in the future?
Kevin Mawae: I’m just trying to be great where I’m at right now. I’m not looking to climb ladders or all that. I’ve had great success as a player and I did that because I was trying to be excellent where I was at the moment. That’s kind of my same mentality here, I want to be the greatest offensive line coach. Whenever my opportunity comes and be ready for that. I am preparing everyday for whatever the next step is in my career or my life, I don’t think beyond that.
Nick: You were known as Mr. Durability during your playing career, do you have any advice for offensive linemen now to stay on the field?
Kevin Mawae: Things are a little bit different now. There’s so much tied into science and all that kind of stuff but at the end of the day a player needs to know whether he’s hurt or injured. I think there’s a distinct difference between hurt and injured. Hurt means it doesn’t feel good, it’s not right but I’m not going to increase the injury or whatever it is, being injured means you just can’t go and those are the differences.
I think every person is different, everybody’s pain tolerance is at different levels and their thresholds are different. For me, if I was hurt, I was playing. If I was injured, I couldn’t go. It was that simple for me. For me there’s no such thing as rest days or rep counts, if I’m on the practice field, I’m going all out and until you pull me off the field that’s the way I approached the game. Everybody has to determine that on their own. For me it was a sense of self pride, I didn’t want to let my teammates down. It’s accountability, your best ability is your availability, but when you’re in the training room, taking rest days and stuff like that, you’re not getting better on the field. You being on the field makes your team better.
Kevin Mawae: I’m a coach of a divisional rival, of course no. I see us winning the division, that would be foolish to not say that. There’s plenty of football left, a lot can happen. We are half a game behind them right now, had we beat them, we would have been half a game up on them. For us it’s not about catching somebody that’s in front of us but taking care of our job, doing our business and letting the chips fall where they may.
But they should fire me if I say the AFC South Championship belongs to the Tennessee Titans. Absolutely not, the Colts are going to win the division this year.
Nick: You’ve seen the Titans twice now this year, how has their offense changed with AJ Brown at wide receiver?
Kevin Mawae: I don’t think their offense is so much about AJ Brown, I think it’s all about the running back. As long as he’s healthy, he’s running the ball, they’re going to do what they are going to do. That’s what their offense is based around, it’s very strong, a powerful running game and he did a great job last week against us.
Nick: Russell Wilson left Seattle early in the offseason. There has been a lot of chatter about who was the driving force behind the Seahawks’ success over the last decade. When something like that happens, who deserves more of the credit, the head coach or the quarterback?
Kevin Mawae: Well who deserves more of the credit in New England, Bill Belichick or Tom Brady? It’s the same situation. I think many times when there’s that much success with a head coach and a certain quarterback, it’s a partnership. It’s a dual deal where both of them have responsibility in it. There’s only one Russell Wilson, only one Tom Brady, take him out of the equation, things have changed.
Look at what’s happening in New England right now, they are not the same team. Ultimately, you want to have a run like the Patriots did with a quarterback like him and that’s what Seattle did with Russell Wilson. It’s a player driven game, coaches can drop off all the X’s and O’s they want but unless you have a guy that can do them and execute them, you’re just going to be another team in the NFL.
Nick: If you had the chance to build your dream offensive line, who are you taking in 2022 at each position?
Kevin Mawae: Well I would pull Kevin Mawae out of the coffins, rejuvenate him and start there. I don’t know, it’s way too early in that discussion for me to even comment. We won’t even start draft evaluations until early February, maybe even a little earlier than that. I don’t know who’s out there and who’s available. To be quite honest, I’m not really concerned about it right now. I’m concerned about the five starters in our room and their backups. That’s what is most important to us right now.
Kevin Mawae: Every position is different and has unique tendencies that you have to have. Not everybody can go play tackle. I know there’s always this comment “move him to guard or move the guard to tackle”, it’s not as easy as that. I think that the most underrated position on the offensive line is the guard position because you have to be big and stout to stop 320-340 lb defensive tackles. You have to be athletic enough to block a guy like Aaron Donald.
Everything happens quicker on the inside three guys, centers and guards because you’re in such tight quarters. It’s not an easy position to play, it’s an under appreciated position for the normal fan to be able to see that. Every team is trying to find the premier guard. When you find one and you have success with it, you’re going to be able to appreciate it even more. There are guys like Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson, unless you were really in tune with offensive line play you really don’t know how good those guys were until you actually watch them play.
Nick: How difficult is it to move and learn different positions or to be asked to play out of your own position on the o-line?
Kevin Mawae: In college, I played three years at left tackle. You’re always on the island by yourself and it’s a very detailed, technical position to play. You have to understand angles, the way you pass hit one guy, you might need to change it up on somebody else. You need to know your opponent and be able to adjust your game accordingly to who that guy is.
Then you move down inside to guard, where I’ve played for two years. Like I said, everything happens so much faster. If you’re not a bigger guard, which I wasn’t, I played in Seattle at guard at 275/280, I had to be technically sound. I had to play with good pad level, good leverage, good hand placements, and stuff like that. That’s where I really developed more of my game.
I was always a natural center to begin with, that was more of a mental game being able to perceive the defense, anticipate what’s going to happen, make the calls while taking care of your blocking assignments and stuff.
I can appreciate all five across the board. Just because you play right tackle doesn’t mean you can flip over and play left tackle, it’s not as easy as that for some people. Playing in a left handed stance at left guard is not the same as playing in a right handed stance at right guard. For those of us that know the position of offensive line play, we know the intricacies of each one of those positions. It’s our goal as coaches to get whoever is in that role to develop as quickly as possible and as best as possible to help their team win.
Nick: How much of a team’s success depends on the offensive line?
Kevin Mawae: Well if your quarterback is getting killed, obviously you’re not going to have a very good passing game. But you have to have a solid offensive line to have a successful offensive team. Whether you’re a running team, a read option team or truly a drop back and throw all over the place team, you have to be able to protect your quarterback and open holes for your running back. Otherwise you’re just going to be sitting in deadass last in every offensive category and hoping defense can keep the opponent to under 30 points.
There’s so much that goes into offensive line play where we do self studies after every single game both from an efficiency standpoint run game to a passing game. Are we taking the right depths on our routes, breaking the routes off in the right place, just so the timing of everything is right. So we don’t have to hold that block for another two seconds or whatever. Anyways, if your offensive line isn’t solid and you’re not playing well, it makes for a miserable season for everybody.
Nick: How much game planning opposing teams have to do for an elite offensive linemen?
Kevin Mawae: Where I excelled was playing in the open field, getting to the second level to the linebackers and even beyond to the safeties and cornerbacks. Wherever I was, especially for the Jets, the perimeter game, the run game was huge for us, the toss sweep, the cracks and stuff like that. To have a guy that has the ability to get out in space and be able to read through all the bodies to find the right assignments.
It creates a challenge because on one play it might look exactly the same but I’m blocking the mic backer. But the next play it’s the same formation but I’m blocking the cornerback. Many times, even Vrabel said it, a few years ago, just follow Mawae, that’s where the ball was going and which is absolutely true but you have to know what play it is, you have to know the angles and stuff like that.
When you do have to have a staff game plan because of an offensive lineman, there’s a certain particular offensive lineman that just adds another layer of difficulty for you to get ready for. There’s one thing for you to prepare for a scheme or one or two bread and butter staple plays that a team has and how they dress it all up with formations but when you have to worry about one particular offensive lineman, when you have four receivers, a tight-end, and a tailback, it just adds another layer of difficulty or preparation.
Nick: So when a sack, an interception or a turnover occurs, who’s at more of a fault? The quarterback or O-linemen?
Kevin Mawae: Right, it depends. Sometimes it’s the quarterback’s fault, bad reads, just panic throws, lots of times it’s the offensive line’s fault, he got beat quick and the quarterback had to hurry up and get rid of the ball or schematically they just got us.
The thing about this league is you play against all pros and pro bowlers, they are just as good as you. Sometimes you just get beat, that’s the reality of playing this sport. At the end of the game, after every game, you evaluate, you make corrections and hope it doesn’t happen again but protection of the quarterback and passing game is a team concept. It’s not one or two guys, it’s not a unit. Everyone has to be in sync with one another, from the timing of the routes, to the drop of the quarterback, to the protection scheme, the offensive line whether it includes a tight-end or a running back, it’s an 11-man scheme. Everybody has to do their job, more so in the passing game than the running game.
Nick: So as an O-line coach now, is there any advice that you’ve passed on from former coaches?
Kevin Mawae: Yeah I’ve played for Howard Mugg, who’s a legendary offensive line coach in this league, was an all-pro player himself in the 60’s. He was kind of my mentor coming up through this, trying to get to where I’m at now. He’s taught me that there’s a lesson to be learned through every stage of this journey. There’s things that you’ll learn about how you like to coach and how you don’t want to be a coach or things you’ll never do as a coach. That’s just from your philosophy, your technique that you teach.
I’ve played for Doug Marrone, Mike Munchak, and Bill Muir, I’ve played for four very solid offensive line coaches and I learned something along the way, not just about how to coach but the techniques we used. I still lean on my old offensive line coach Kenny Pharaoh, who I still believe is one of the best offensive line coaches that nobody has ever heard of. He coached high school ball after he retired from the college ranks and won two state championships. All he dreams about and talks about is offensive line technique.
My philosophy comes from what I did as a player, what I knew worked as a player, what I learned from my coaches. You kind of melt all that together to become your own coach and instill that in the players that you’re working with.
Nick: The Colts play the Patriots in a couple of weeks. How do you prepare for a matchup versus Bill Belichick and the Patriots?
Mawae: Well, I’ve played against him like 16 times when I was a player and now coaching against him, he’s the same coach. It’s the same system. He’s a week-to-week gameplan guy. Like this week, he will be a four-down defensive front, structured defense and the next week it will be all nickel and dime. It’s all based on what they think gives them the best advantage to beat the opponent for the week. A lot of teams are who we are and this is what we do and we’re going to stop you with what we do. But Belichick, his MO, has always been to change his defense from week to week.
So, you don’t know. And when the time comes, we’ll break down the film and I’ll give my input.
Our focus at this moment is playing the Washington Commanders this coming up this week. And we’ll get to New England, when we get to them.
Nick: Can LSU compete in the SEC with Brian Kelly as head coach?
Mawae: They’ve had some good games. They did a great job last week against Ole Miss. They were favored by one point. They blew them out. So, as long as they win, that’s all that matters to me. I think they can be competitive, LSU’s always had great talent. After the 2019 season, when they won the national title, their talent got depleted because like 20 guys got drafted into the NFL. So, it’s hard to rejuvenate that over a two-year period. I know they are doing well on the recruiting trail right now. They did pretty good last year with their signing class.
As long as they can continue to win and recruit high level talent, then they are going to be back in the running.
In a couple of weeks, they play Alabama and that is always going to be a true test. I think Alabama has been struggling right now. They’ve had some ups and downs in the past couple of weeks. I think LSU, competing in the SEC, is always going to be one of the top teams. They are always going to be fighting for the division title in the West.
It’s always about Alabama and sometimes Texas A&M can sneak up in there. LSU and Alabama dominate the West division.
But for me, it’s all about beating Alabama.
Nick: Will LSU cover the spread against Alabama?
Mawae: Belichick, well no. Might as well say Belichick because they are the same person. Nick Saban, he’s going to have his team ready. You know, all of his kids in Alabama know that the match going
LSU needs to be ready. Fortunately they are playing at home. Historically, it was always the visiting team that has kind of owned that record. Whoever travels has always been up on that record.
That’s always one game that I kind of make sure that I tune into. It’s going to be a big one but we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes.
Mawae: Win. (Laugh) I think LSU has always struggled at the quarterback situation.
Now, they have a stable of quarterbacks.
You got Jayden Daniels, whom I was with at Arizona State. You got Walker Howard, who is redshirting this year. He’ll have an opportunity to play next year. He is the son of my former teammates. His dad, Jamie Howard, was a quarterback when I was at LSU.
That’s always been LSU’s problem. They can get running backs. They can get offensive linemen. They can get DBs, it’s DB-U. They just need to land that one franchise quarterback that can stay there for two or three years to develop and take the team where they need to go.
In Les Miles’ later days, he had Zach Mettenberger who took them to prominence, and there was some time in there when they didn’t have anybody. Then, Joe Burrow showed up on the scene and everyone knows what happened with that. It’s finding a quarterback that’s consistent and that can play at a high level there. I think that’s always been LSU’s struggle over the last several years.
Nick: When someone gets hurt, who is responsible for taking them out of the game — the player, coaches, or medical staff?
Mawae: I think it’s collective. Everyone has to be a part of it. A player has to be honest with his situation and he’s got to be honest with where he’s at. It’s hard when you’re a high level competitor in the NFL. You want to be on the field. You want to be accountable to your teammates and show that you’re a tough person — that you can fight through some of that stuff.
But, there’s a reason why there’s an independent medical examiner on the sideline or watching the games. They can make unbiased opinions on whether or not a guy, from a head injury, is able to come back in the game. And coaches know their players better than anybody else. If a coach is seeing something that is off-kilter or whatever, then they have to speak up.
It’s a collective effort by everyone involved. And everyone has to be honest. The priority needs to be the health of the player, not the health of the game. And that’s what it boils down to.
Mawae: I don’t know. Everybody’s different.
The money is so great right now in the league that a guy can play one contract and be like ‘I’m good’ and he can retire just because he doesn’t want to play anymore or he fears getting hurt.
For me, I was going to play until the wheels fell off. I really wanted to play two more years beyond the year I retired, I just didn’t have the opportunity. Everyone has to make personal decisions, personal choices on what they think is best for themselves, their families and their career. But injuries always do play a part.
One thing I know is that 100 percent of the players that leave the game will leave the game hurt with some kind of injury or surgery. 100 percent of the guys are going to be hurt when they leave the game. It’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when. Some guys’ timeline is a whole ‘lot shorter than others.
But concussions are always going to be on the forefront because they are the most damaging right now. It became the focus in 2011 and the game has changed because of the safety and welfare of the players. In some regards to the better, and in some, it’s kind of like ‘meh’ the jury is still out. But at the end of the day, the player’s health has to be the priority.
Mawae: I can’t say what the NFL has done. I really don’t. I know there was a lawsuit in 2011, it was a concussion lawsuit that led to a settlement. Part of that settlement was to get disclosure to get information on what the NFL knew over the course and history of the league and part of the settlement was that they didn’t have to disclose anything.
For those that were named plaintiffs in that lawsuit, at the time I was disappointed that they didn’t take it to the end. But there are some guys that are getting older and felt like they were never going to see any money that comes out of any settlement if it went to the very end.
I guess part of that lawsuit settlement was that the NFL disclosed what they knew. As far as I knew, the NFLPA didn’t have any data on that information. It’s not our business to collect the data and it wasn’t at the time. So I don’t know.
Mawae: Well you’ve changed the way you can tackle, you’ve changed the way you can hit guys across the middle, you’ve changed the way you can block guys chasing the play from the backside, you’ve changed the way you can hit a quarterback, you’ve changed the helmet that they use and the helmets that they wear.
You’ve limited to a certain number of types of helmets, adding technology – you’ve put contact tracers in helmets so you know the level and severity of impacts. I don’t know what more you can do. At the end of the day football in general is a violent sport, it’s not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. Guys are going to get hurt.
For players that have said “I didn’t know about concussions”, there’s a sticker on the back of your helmet that says that ‘this sport can cause injury, harm or death’. You make a conscious decision to play this game, the risk you take is that you could get hurt whether it be head injury, paralysis, knees, elbows, whatever, you take an inherent risk to play the game.
The question for you that you have to ask yourself is ‘is it worth the rewards you are going to get?’
For me it was absolutely worth the rewards, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime, it’s an opportunity to set yourself beyond this game whether you play for four years or fourteen years, it doesn’t matter,
For a guy that played as long as I did, it’s an opportunity to create generational wealth for your family and your family’s family. It’s a contact sport, people are going to get hurt playing this game.
For anyone to think that it’s something other than that, they are fooling themselves and they are living in a dream world when it comes to football.
Nick: Is the league doing enough to compensate retired players that have been injured while playing in the NFL?
Mawae: More has been done for the former players in the last 20 years than has ever been done for them before. And it’s not the league. For every dime that the NFLPA negotiates for the players on their behalf, they are the ones responsible for taking money out of current players’ pockets and giving it back to the former players.
The last CBA in 2021, and I don’t know all of the details of it, but everybody that ever played the game, their pensions who ever played the game got bumped up.
Healthcare is always going to be tough. Everyone wants lifetime medical but there’s no company in the world that gives lifetime medical. It doesn’t matter if you work for Walmart, a Fortune 500 company, or whatever.
So, there’s a reason why there’s Medicare. There is a reason why they have Grover policies. This game is not intended for your play until 65 years old into retirement.
Your lifespan in this league is — if you’re lucky, you’ll get five years, and if you’re fortunate, you’ll have 10-15.
So it’s upon the players to figure out ways to save their money and prepare for a life after football. When you talk about older guys who played in the 60’s and 70’s, the game was a lot different then. More has been done in the last 15 years and the last two negotiations to help those guys than ever before but that wasn’t on behalf of the NFL. That was on the NFLPA and the leaders that negotiated those deals to give back to those guys.
Could there be more that can be done? Yeah, I’m sure there is. But that’s going to be up to the leaders that are in those PA positions right now to make those decisions in the next CBA which doesn’t take place until 2030 or something like that.
The deal about the CBA, and I learned this when I was a young player rep under Gene Upshaw. The CBA is a living, breathing document, it changes every year.
The negotiations are not going to sit around and wait for the next nine years or eight years. There are always micro-negotiations taking place throughout every year and things that change that nobody ever knows about.
I think there is a responsibility on the former players that they have to take care of themselves. You can’t keep giving guys money and stuff like that.
There’s also a level of responsibility that the NFL should take, an understanding that this is where these guys are at, they produce the product that they sell and there should be something. But at no time do I ever think that you think you should just get it just to get it. You have to have earned your right. A guy that played 16 years should be able to get more benefits than a guy that played one season. So, there’s a level of meritocracy there that should take place.
Nick: How has Tom Brady played in the NFL for so long?
Mawae: You have to know what works for you and be adamant about how you take care of your body, how you prepare every season. I played 16 years, I missed a handful of games here and there, but at the end of the day it was about understanding what it takes for me to be ready for the next game. And again it goes back to if I’m hurt or injured. Can I play through that and what it’s going to take me to get back on the football field?
Tom’s at a whole different level. He’s like an anomaly. The only time a guy has played that long were mostly old school kickers, but he’s done a great job. If you can still do it, go do it. As long as somebody finds value in what you’re able to do whether you’re 25 or 45, more power to you.
Everybody does talk about the NFL stands for ‘Not for Long’, so while you’re in it, get as much as you can while you can because you’re one play away from your career ending.
Nick: Speaking of Brady, he gets the ball out really quickly. How much does that help an offensive line?
Mawae: Every offensive line hopes it’s the quarterback’s philosophy and he doesn’t sit back there and pat the ball 100 times. If you get the ball out as quickly as possible, it makes your job a whole lot easier.
I’ve played with some great quarterbacks, I’ve played with Warren Moon, Vinny Testaverde, Kerry Collins, those veteran guys, they didn’t sit back there in the pocket, they got rid of the ball.
The older you get, the harder the hits feel and hurt more. You’re not going to sit back there and take that hit, you get that ball out of your hand and don’t take the sack. The older you get, the smarter you play and then you make smarter decisions.
Nick: What was your role as the president of the NFL Players’ Association and can it be a distraction during the week?
Mawae: If you let it be. If anybody has any distractions during the season as NFLPA president, it was myself. I got elected in March, the following training camp Gene Upshaw, the entire season of 2009 – I spent time traveling from Washington D.C, Dallas and everywhere across the country on Mondays and Tuesdays to do interviews. I executed a national level search for the new executive director during my playing days. It all depends on your priorities. I take care of business on Mondays and Tuesdays but when I got on the field on Wednesdays, it was all about ball and it was actually a reprieve from all the extra stuff I had to worry about.
But when you take on the role as a president, you have to take on the role of everything that goes with it. That’s about prioritizing your time, your teammates and your duties as the presidents. You have to figure out how to make that work.
Nick: You mention the CBA expires in 2030, do you see there being any trouble in negotiation, a lock out or anything like that coming?
Mawae: I don’t know. I know in the last deal there was a no opt-out clause, the NFL can’t opt out of it early, so they are going to take this one all the way to the end. The big thing is on both sides of the fence, who are going to be the leaders overseeing that negotiation eight years from now, that’s the most important thing.
For the sake of this league and the business of this game, which is the greatest game in the world. We are arrogant enough to believe that in the United States that there’s no other sport better than the NFL but in order to keep it going both sides have to come to a level of understanding that this is what’s most important for the game and not what’s most important for the dollar.
Nick: Do you have advice for kids growing up playing football, anything you want to share with the youth that are coming up trying?
Mawae: If I have to say anything to the kids that are playing the game now and even to the parents, enjoy the game, don’t prioritize one sport over the other, play as many sports as possible. Let your desires, talents and passions take you to where you want to be. But if you’re playing for the sole purpose of getting a scholarship and making it to the NFL, well join the other 33 million kids that are doing that. If your purpose is to have fun, build character in yourself, accountability, and get better as a person, football is the greatest sport in the world. It’s a selfless sport, you have to be selfless in order to play it. Enjoy it, have fun with it and let your journey be a joyful one, not just a stressed out one trying to figure out what’s next.