LARAMIE — He knows where he’s going to live and how much money he’ll make.
That’s about all Logan Wilson is certain of as he begins life in the NFL.
It’s been three months since Wilson, a former All-America linebacker at Wyoming, was taken with the 65th overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL Draft. Only quarterback Josh Allen, who was selected with the seventh overall pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2018, has been drafted higher than Wilson among UW players in the last 25 years.
Wilson’s addition to the organization became official last week when the Casper native signed a four-year rookie contract worth nearly $5 million, which included a signing bonus of roughly $1.15 million, according to Spotrac. When Wilson will actually get on the practice field with his new teammates for the first time is still a guess, though it could be happening sooner rather than later.
“It’s exciting to have that source of income, but also we don’t even really know how training camp is going to work yet,” Wilson told the Star-Tribune in a phone interview. “There are some things that are still being finalized, and so there’s still kind of a level of uncertainty so to say with everything going on still.”
Rookie minicamps and in-person organized team activities — usually the first opportunities for NFL teams to see their draft picks and unsigned free agents in action — were canceled this spring in response to the coronavius outbreak, which is forcing everyone in the sports world to proceed with caution. While Major League Baseball, which isn’t allowing fans to attend games, and the NBA, which is operating in an enclosed “bubble” environment in Orlando, Florida, have started their shortened seasons, the NFL Players Association on Friday approved a plan for teams to start training camp this week as scheduled with certain protocols in place, though any kind of schedule amid a pandemic is tentative.
Wilson’s only in-person activity with his new team to this point has been receiving COVID-19 tests in a trailer outside of Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals play their home games. He’s not even sure exactly when he’ll get to access the team’s facilities since two consecutive negative tests are required before players are allowed to do so. Wilson was tested twice last week, the latter administered Friday, and is awaiting the results.
The Bengals’ veterans are scheduled to report Tuesday.
“It’s a waiting game,” Wilson said. “There are so many things that are out of your control, so you just kind of wait around and continue to stay in shape, study and whatever happens happens. That’s kind of my mentality toward it all.”
Wilson did most of that back home in Wyoming. Wilson lived with his father, Trevor, in Casper leading up to April’s draft and continued to do so afterward since he couldn’t immediately report to his new team. He spent time working out at his alma mater, Natrona County High School, as well as the local YMCA, doing what he could to keep himself in peak physical condition.
“I just wanted to make sure that I did some speed work just to maintain my speed throughout the quarantine,” Wilson said. “Just try to be in as good of shape as I could given the circumstances. Even when I’d go to the weight room, it wasn’t like I was able to lift super heavy because we weren’t allowed to have a spotter. So everything was just kind of like at your own risk, and I didn’t want to risk injuring myself without having any spotter. With the nature of what we’re all going through, I was just thankful I even had a gym to throw some weight around in.”
Sometimes Wilson opted to get his workouts in at the other high school in town, Kelly Walsh, which is conveniently located in close proximity to his father’s house. It was after one of those sessions in which Wilson said the reality of being an NFL player first hit him.
“There were some junior high kids that were hanging out at the field at KW, and I was listening to music while I was working out,” Wilson recalled. “I finished, and I was sitting down. I was going to stretch, and they all came over and asked if I played for the Bengals. I think at that point it was kind of like a realization.”
There were also numerous virtual meetings with the Bengals’ coaching staff via Zoom each week. Wilson said those included special teams meetings and position meetings as well as meetings with Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. The coaches also sent Wilson an iPad with the team’s playbook on it, which Wilson said he tries to study at least once a day.
“Very intricate,” Wilson said of the playbook. “It’s just a lot more complex than you’d think.”
The objective is to be as prepared as possible for a first preseason experience that’s going to come with less opportunities than usual for Wilson to make a good impression. Even if the Bengals’ training camp goes off without any hiccups, the NFL Players Association has agreed with the league’s plan to cancel all preseason games, which isn’t the best news for rookies trying to earn a roster spot.
Not even for a third-round pick fresh off a sizable payday.
“That’s the decision they came to and that’s what they feel is safest, so I’m all right with it,” Wilson said. “But I still have to earn my spot on the roster. Just because I was a third-round pick doesn’t mean I get to show up and just make the 53-man roster. You’ve still got to earn that.
“But definitely it sucks for undrafted rookies who, a lot of guys, that’s how they make a team is through the preseason. The whole season, whatever it looks like, is going to be completely different than what it normally is.”
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow nationwide, players also have the option to opt out of the season assuming there is one. According to ESPN, players deemed high risk to the virus can opt out and still earn $350,000 while players without risk can get $150,000 if they opt out. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a starting offensive lineman for the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, has already exercised his opt-out option.
Wilson didn’t mention the possibility of opting out, but he stopped short of saying he’s completely comfortable with the idea of playing this fall given the current COVID-19 climate in America, which has more than 4.1 million confirmed cases —nearly double the amount of any other country — according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
“There’s just a lot to it,” Wilson said. “I mean, for my age group, there’s not a very high chance of pushing death if you get COVID, but that’s really beside the fact. You could take it home and give it to a family member who might be at higher risk. There’s just so many variables and so much uncertainty with the virus. It just affects people differently, and that’s the scary part about it is thinking someone who is super healthy and has no underlying health conditions can get really sick from it. And even if they get through it, they could still have health implications for the rest of their life.”
Still, Wilson has made the move to Cincinnati in anticipation of training camp starting on time.
Wilson and his girlfriend, Morgan, who plans to live with him during the season, recently split the 19-hour drive into two days before arriving at their apartment in Wilder, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati that’s just across the Ohio River from Paul Brown Stadium. Even finding a place to live didn’t happen conventionally.
“We did a FaceTime virtual tour of the apartment complex we’re living at,” Wilson said. “It was weird, but everything’s weird right now.”
Now Wilson is awaiting the next move toward the start of his professional football career. Whatever that may be.
“Who knows how it’s going to look, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a significant amount of money to set up my family for life,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity in front of me. Whatever it holds, I’ll be excited to take on the challenges.”
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.
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