NFL draft picks: Don't blow opportunity of a lifetime

Story highlights

  • Keith Bulluck says NFL players can live comfortably for the rest of their lives if they make smart decisions
  • He says players need to know the NFL is a business, not a game
  • Bulluck says players need to prepare for the much smaller paycheck that will come when they leave the NFL
The NFL draft, kicking off Thursday night, will always bring back special memories for me. It changed my life.
I was fortunate to be selected in the first round by the Tennessee Titans in 2000. The first paycheck I received was for well over $700,000 and I had just turned 23 years old. This instantly made me the wealthiest person in my family.
Starting tonight, hundreds of young men will be anxiously waiting for their phones to ring with an NFL head coach on the other end saying they were just selected to play in the league. That call validates all the hard work and understanding of the game, but it doesn't teach you how to manage the wealth and business decisions that come with it.
My agent, the late Gary Wichard, made me well aware in my rookie year that the NFL is a business as well as a game.
Gary would always speak about the business side of the game, league operations and the importance of "not wasting your money."
Keith Bulluck
He never advised me what to do with my money or who I should let oversee my accounts. His main emphasis was on saving as much money as I could so that when I retired I wouldn't have to change my lifestyle.
He taught me that the average draft pick, even one who only plays the league average three to four years, should be able to live comfortably for the rest of his life. He might need to work, but doesn't need to settle for a profession he's not interested in. These talks were instrumental throughout my career and still play in my head today.
I never felt the pressure of having to buy a big house, multiple cars, a ton of jewelry or everyone in my family a home. I took care of my simple needs -- a townhouse and the car I always wanted. The rest of that money I put directly into my money manager account, where I could monitor my funds until I found someone I was comfortable investing with.
Whenever investment opportunities arise, I make sure the pitcher gets vetted by each layer of my team and I insist on a business plan or else we can't talk. This provides a solid form of checks and balances that allows me to make confident decisions when doing business.
By making it to the NFL, you have defied major odds and will be rewarded for it. The top players in this year's draft will become instant millionaires and others will make hundreds of thousands with their salary and bonus. It's highly unlikely you will make that kind of money once your playing career is over.
The reality is that no matter how financially responsible you try to be, money will be wasted. It is unrealistic to expect an NFL rookie in his early 20s with equal amounts of testosterone and cash not to spend money recklessly at some point.
For most draft picks, popping bottles in night clubs, picking up tabs for expensive dinners and taking friends and family on extravagant vacations becomes very expensive. I have been a part of all these scenarios, but this type of spending isn't generally how players lose all their earnings from the NFL.
The majority of financial woes come from untrustworthy financial advisers, family members, poor business deals, second homes and other low-return investments like restaurants, bars, nightclubs and music studios
I have been fortunate to have received terrible financial advice only once causing me to take a loss. This advice came at a cheap price compared to the millions of dollars lost by players I know personally. Unfortunately, the people you should be able to trust the most can be the ones to cause you the most harm.
You've got to keep it simple. I would estimate that 60% of the NFL players I've known over my 11-year career have had some type of money issue. I don't mean bankrupt, but they are unable to sustain the lifestyle they should be living after a successful NFL career.
Many players never stop for a minute to think about the much smaller paycheck that comes after football. Even if you retire with a few million dollars in your portfolio, the boredom of no longer having a routine will get the best of you.
Halfway through my career I got even more serious about educating myself for life after football. The NFL offers business, entrepreneurship and other educational workshops.
Right now I am enrolled in George Washington University's Star EMBA executive business program, which builds on the unique experience of individuals with personal brands and creates a customized degree in business education.
I also co-host on SiriusXM NFL Radio and do color commentary in Nashville for Titans preseason games with my old teammate and friend, Heisman trophy winner Eddie George, who has already received his MBA.
It was extremely important for me to be a student of my finances, business and other interests outside football. It led to the discovery of other interests and opportunities that I am pursuing now that I am retired.
Now that I've set myself up financially, my "simple" filter has more of a focus on looking for opportunities that will help me continue to learn and grow.
My football career gave me that opportunity, to be able to enjoy the rest of my life with financial stability and focus on things I'm passionate about.
Thanks, Gary.