Mike Pouncey is a famously tough guy playing an infamously ruthless game.
But on Monday, with a life’s dream realized and his family by his side, the Miami Dolphins’ star lineman was strong enough to cry.
Pouncey broke down repeatedly during the news conference announcing his five-year, $45 million contract extension to remain in Miami, an eye-popping deal that makes him the highest-paid center in the NFL.
Pouncey shed those tears, in part, because of the life-changing money. But that was only part of it. He got choked up because of what the contract represents – a sign of the organization’s faith in a player who, by his own admission, gave the team many reasons in the past to doubt him.
“It says so much about them,” Pouncey said. “They could have easily gave up on me a long time ago. They stuck with me, it’s something I will never forget. It’s something I will bring to this facility every day. I’m going to work and push myself and push my teammates. There won’t be a doubt that they made the right decision to keep me here.”
Pouncey will earn $11 million this year alone, and $20 million over the next two seasons.
The Dolphins could have basically paid him the same amount without the long-term commitment. The could have simply allowed him to play out the final year of his final contract in 2015 and franchised him in 2016 – a pay-as-you-go approach that minimizes the organization’s risk.
Instead, they elected pay a premium to lock him up through 2020, an indication of how much they value him, and that they believe his past embarrassments are truly that – a thing of the past.
From the notorious “Free Hernandez” hats to his role in the team’s workplace harassment scandal, Pouncey has a history of bad judgment. And those type of players don’t often hang around long with Joe Philbin as coach.
League investigator Ted Wells found that Pouncey, Richie Incognito and John Jerry engaged in a pattern of abuse directed at Jonathan Martin, and others, during the 2013 season. The scandal ranks among the biggest embarrassments in team history.
The Dolphins parted ways with Incognito and Jerry as soon as they could. And yet, they have embraced Pouncey.
It helps that Pouncey isn’t just a good player, but an elite one at his position. General Manager Dennis Hickey on Monday compared Pouncey, twice a Pro Bowler, to Dolphins greats Jim Langer and Dwight Stephenson.
But even Pouncey acknowledged Monday that talent alone only gets a player so many chances. Dependability is essential, too.
“There were days where I was just disappointed in myself more than anything,” Pouncey said. “… It wasn’t just one situation, just stuff I wish I would have done a lot better. I can only be a leader to these guys on this football team and show the young guys the right way because there’s a right and a wrong way to do stuff, and if you do it the right way, stuff comes a lot easier. I never doubted my talent on the football field would get me a big contract. But it takes more than that. It takes for you to do it on and off the football field. This day means a lot to me and my family.”
That family – his mother Lisa, father Rob, girlfriend and two children – shared in Pouncey’s landmark day. They were in the room when he signed the contract, and in the audience when he gave his teary-eyed testimonial.
As for what the Dolphins – and their fans – can expect from Pouncey going forward?
“You’re just going to see a better leader,” he said. “I’m going to be the same football player. Just a better leader on and off the football field.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Armando Salguero contributed to this report.