Jordan Addison’s case is what the free-market is all about, and where NIL is headed
There’s a misconception that USC has spent the first few months of the Lincoln Riley era dragging a golden bus across the country and purchasing college football stars at every stop. As of May 2, the Trojans rank second in 247 Sports’ Transfer Team Rankings, but most of those student-athletes are easily replaceable cogs in their previous programs’ perpetually grinding gears. They’ll just elevate some four-star recruit into the lineup without batting an eye. Over 90 percent of USC’s incoming transfers are seniors or graduate students hoping to vault themselves into the second or third day of the 2023 Draft. The only one who isn’t is quarterback Caleb Williams, who followed Riley from Oklahoma.
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However, USC’s alleged pursuit of a player not even in the transfer portal has sparked Pittsburgh’s inferiority complex and become the latest bullet point for those who believe the NIL era is a blight upon college football. Any time a prominent player checks out for greener pa$tures, the entire fanbase dives into a bottle of Jim Beam. That time may have come for the Pittsburgh Panthers in regards to Jordan Addison.
By now, it’s become common knowledge that Pittsburgh’s junior receiver is considering taking his talent to Venice Beach, and joining Riley at USC. While he’s not yet officially in the transfer portal, he had until a May 1 deadline to submit a written request to enter the portal and transfer without needing a waiver for eligibility to play the fall. The school has two days to complete paperwork, which should make his entry into the portal official by Tuesday.
Not many receivers of Addison’s caliber dip out after a season in which they compiled 100 receptions, 1,593 yards, 17 touchdowns. He’s projected to defend his Biletnikoff title and be a first-round pick next year. From Addison’s perspective, his stock has never been higher, but he is losing his starting quarterback in Kenny Pickett, who went to the Steelers in the first round of last week’s draft, as well as his wide receivers coach, who left for Texas. And because he plays off the beaten path at Pitt, he’s valued behind receivers who were less productive than he was in 2021.
Addison ended the season as the No. 98-ranked player on the On3 NIL 100 with an NIL Valuation of $139K, but is ranked beneath a slew of receivers from Ohio State, Alabama, Penn State, Texas A&M, Texas, and Florida State. Dozens of players watch their draft stock plummet based on arbitrary factors every year. You can’t fault Addison for wanting to maximize his earnings in the present and protect his draft stock by seeking a more capable quarterback. The fury over Addison’s USC rumors are understandable, but it’s also a reflection of what college coaches have done for years in their own self-interests, hopping from program to program.
However, his coach Pat Narduzzi has made it highly uncomfortable for Addison and USC by reportedly dialing up Riley to confront him with accusations he was personally involved with recruiting Addison, a no-no. At the same time, Pitt officials have spread rumors that USC was tampering by recruiting Addison with NIL dough before he’d entered the portal. Addison’s visit to Los Angeles last week turned up the intrigue tenfold. The reports of $3 million in NIL deals that dwarfs his $179K valuation have boggled minds, but this is the free market. You’re underpaid until you’re overpaid. There really isn’t a middle ground.
Narduzzi and Pitt’s envy is one expressed by dozens of coaches across the country. An 11-3 Pitt season felt like the type of breakthrough year they could build on after six years spent dancing on a pin and barely qualifying for bowl games. Addison’s transfer, coupled with Pickett’s graduation would be a double-punch to the gut. Pitt’s donor collectives aren’t as willing to dole out that type of dough for one player, unlike USC’s. That’s where Narduzzi’s frustrations should lie, not with Riley.
While Narduzzi practiced his Detective Benoit Blanc impression and zeroed in on Riley as a tampering suspect, there are suspicions abound that fellow DMV native Caleb Williams is the one backchanneling for Addison. Either way, Narduzzi’s outrage has focused on Riley, who’s become a boogeyman for coaches across the country since Williams followed his trail to USC.
As painful as this transition period may be for veteran coaches, they’ll have to come to terms with the reality that this is what an equal playing field with players looks like. As tough as it may be for Pitt and Panthers fans to lose Addison, college coaches have done this for decades and yet the sport survived just fine. If USC were interested in Narduzzi as coach and offered him a raise, he’d be on the first private jet to L.A.
This sport has always been more cutthroat than Vito Corleone. Keep in mind how difficult it has been for non-Power Five conference programs to have their program architects poached by bigger schools, then watch many of them get discarded and bought out when they couldn’t reproduce that formula? What Addison is doing isn’t any worse than Brian Kelly negotiating a deal with LSU during the season. These high-and-mighty coaches need to keep that in mind next time an athletic director or executive search firm comes by with an offer they can’t refuse.