If there is anyone in the NFL who understands how fickle a life in football can be, it's Aaron Curry. The former fourth overall pick in the NFL draft has seen a considerable amount of ups and downs in his football career. All of which has led him to where he is today. At yet another in a long line of crossroads on his bumpy career path.
In high school, he played at both linebacker and tight end. And despite the being named to both All Conference and All Region defensive player of the year in North Carolina, he received very little interest from Division one schools. Only East Carolina and Wake Forest came calling and he chose Wake Forest because it was closer to home and because he could get revenge on all the local ACC schools who neglected to recruit him.
He made them pay immediately too. He earned All Freshman team honors followed by a sophomore season in which he was second on the team in tackles, He was second team All ACC as a junior and won the Butkus Award as a Senior leading to his being arguably the top linebacker prospect in the NFL draft.
But with that high pick came a great deal of pressure.
"I understood the responsibilities or the expectations that came with the fourth pick overall." Said Curry in a Sirius radio interview on Friday. "But I didn't quite respect the fact that they were serious about a certain guy drafted in a certain position should be able to take a franchise by themselves and make it all the difference. I just didn't take it that serious because in my mindset it was like ‘that's impossible'.
"It's hard for me to understand that you're going to take a linebacker and think that he is going to change the franchise... I mean, they weren't necessarily on the bubble the year before. I was picked fourth for a reason because how the state of the franchise was... when you're picked in the top five, your drafted into a franchise that has some issues and it's not just one player that's it gonna change those issues... So that's why I was able to not let it beat me up so bad."
He was the first draft pick under Seahawks head coach Jim Mora. But after just one season with the Seahawks, the head coach who drafted him was fired. Pete Carrol came in and took over. And with the coaching change, any attachment to Curry went out the window along with any benefit of the doubt.
Carrol didn't draft him and as most new coaches are want to do, he preferred to construct the team with his players. Curry was eventually phased out in Seattle and became trade bait and the Raiders were interested.
He was acquired by the Raiders in trade just prior to the midseason trade deadline. Upon his arrival, former head coach Hue Jackson immediately inserted him into the starting lineup, forcing him to learn the Raiders defensive schemes on the fly.
After last season, that coach who traded for him and had enough faith in his talents to insert him into the starting lineup was fired. His future with the team was very uncertain. He represented a $5.8 million cap hit that the Raiders could completely clear off the books if they cut him. Also working against Curry's chances of a return was the parameters of the trade for him.
He was acquired for a 2012 7th round draft pick and a 2013 mid round selection that depending upon playing time could be as high as a 4th rounder. Therefore, the team could eliminate his cap figure and lower his trade compensation with his release. It was an extremely precarious situation for Curry who had hoped to have found his new long term NFL home.
Said Curry; "At first with the new regime I was a little nervous because I had been there before with a brand new regime coming in. So I was a little nervous, a little uneasy at first."
Curry still had a great deal of gratitude for the Raiders who he saw as saving him from a bad situation in Seattle and put faith in him that the new regime in Seattle never did. And to ensure he wouldn't have to start over again on another team, he signed an extension that dropped his $5.8 million salary in 2012 down to a base salary of $615,000 plus a $1.885 million signing bonus-a pay cut of $3.3 million.
This brings Curry to another crossroads. The extension the Raiders gave him can be anywhere from one season to four. If he takes a step back this season, the team could cut him and not be on the hook for any of his $3.5 million salary in 2013. But if he begins to prove his potential and the faith the team has in him, the team could pick up an additional three seasons on his contract.
This leaves Curry's future in his hands. It is as much security as Curry has ever had in his career.
For a guy who was not highly recruited out of high school and given up on by the team who drafted him, the team that had every reason to show him the door, showed him some commitment. And he returned the favor. Even while the Raiders were cleaning house of many of its high-priced players such as Stanford Routt, Kevin Boss, and Kamerion Wimbley.
"Unfortunately because of the cap we couldn't keep everybody but there's tons of talent." Said Curry. "That's one of the first things I realized when I got down there last year, I was like, there's a lot of talent on the defense alone. So I'm just looking forward to how coach Allen is going to use us.
"You know, I'm excited. I'm excited... I realized it's all going to come down to one thing and that's eleven men lined up and putting it all out there. So I'm excited for the team that's returning because we had some great players on defense."
As excited as he is about this team, he has given the Raiders every reason to be excited about him. He doesn't take anything for granted. He doesn't have that kind of luxury. He will continue to work for everything he gets. And with that mindset, his road ahead could be a whole lot smoother.