The joys of spring football have grown into a tangled web of uncertainties with staff and player turnover.
Once cherished as an opportunity to see young players bloom, the offseason has turned into a free agency frenzy.
Most recently, Georgia sophomore lineman Amarius Mims entered the transfer portal on Sunday after missing the Bulldogs’ Thursday practice and Saturday scrimmage.
RELATED: Amarius Mims’ transfer portal action becomes a reality
It was a transaction that was anticipated for weeks, but it still hits hard when one considers Mims’ NFL talent and the concept Georgia wasn’t able to keep one of its in-state 5-stars “home.”
The Bulldogs’ reigning national championship program has become a poster child for the complexity of this new free agent season brought on by NIL and one-time transfer legislation.
It’s Mims in the spotlight now, but this new, offseason trend actually started for Georgia less than 12 hours after the Bulldogs won the CFP title game.
Quarterback Stetson Bennett, one of the more unlikely stories of the modern era, told a live national television audience on Good Morning America he wasn’t sure where he would play football in 2022 after living out his dream at Georgia.
“We will see if I can trust the decisions made by the staff,” Bennett said, “and we will see where I’m going to play.”
Bennett explained what took place in “closed-door” meetings with Smart that led to his return.
RELATED: Life at the top easier for Stetson Bennett, Georgia’s unquestioned No. 1 QB
“I wanted to hear what coach Smart had to do,” Bennett said. “It was time for me to be a little selfish while I was making that decision.”
Bennett’s mindset is no different than most any other current football player.
Smart identified the trend four years ago, breaking it down at the 2018 SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla.
Kirby called it
“It’s a me-now society,” Smart said, discussing the onset of quarterback transfer issues before entering a 2018 QB saga with Jake Fromm and Justin Fields.
“They want the self-gratification, they want to know they are going to be able to play.”
RELATED: How Trevor Lawrence affected Justin Fields’ decision to leave Georgia
Scholarships are more of a year-to-year proposition than ever, and quarterback remains the most volatile of positions.
Consider, there were at least 17 QB transfers in place for 2022 before JT Daniels entered the portal on Jan. 19.
RELATED: Looking back at how different UGA offense looked with JT Daniels last spring
It wasn’t a coincidence former UGA receiver Jermaine Burton, now at Alabama, entered the portal the same day as Daniels.
Georgia has a more balanced offensive approach with Bennett — less passing — than when Daniels was running an offense with more multi-receiver sets.
RELATED: Smart shares JT Daniels, Stetson Bennett QB plan with ESPN
“Be who you are,” Smart said last week of his offense. “If your strength is at wide-out, if your strength is at O-line, if your strength is at tight end, if your strength is at running back, if your strength is at quarterback then use it.”
Alabama’s new catch
Burton, looking out for his best interests, surely noted UGA tight end Brock Bowers had almost twice as many catches and yards as the team’s top two wide receivers combined last season.
Tight end targets don’t figure to drop off in 2022, either, with Bowers returning, LSU transfer Arik Gilbert engaged and Top 100 signee Oscar Delp on board.
RELATED: Nick Saban sees Jermaine Burton sparking Alabama offense
Georgia is so deep at the position that former 5-start tight end Darnell Washington, on the mend this spring with an ankle injury, is also rumored to be considering the transfer portal.
Washington, with a family to support and the ability to turn pro after this season, has to look out for himself.
That’s likely why Washington shared a “day-by-day” philosophy during his interview session last week.
Daniels, meanwhile, determined another year of uncertainty in the UGA quarterback room was not the best path to pursue his professional aspirations.
Daniels visited West Virginia this weekend knowing the Mountaineers will run a pass-friendly offense that’s suited to his skillsets.
Fair is fair
Bennett, Daniels, Burton or Mims, can anyone really blame players for looking out for themselves when we see head coaches and assistant coaches making their moves?
Former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning took the head job at Oregon because it was better for him, just as offensive line coach Matt Luke stepped down from his position to meet his family needs.
If Smart gets the 10-year, $100 million contract extension he is believed to be negotiating, will anyone blame him for realizing his earnings potential?
Did anyone at Georgia blame Smart for the nine years he spent on the Alabama coaching staff, helping Nick Saban put a roadblock in front of the Bulldogs and the rest of the SEC?
Fact is, the days of high-powered programs stockpiling talent and letting “iron sharpen iron” are endangered as players are finding pathways to easier and faster playing time via the portal.
It’s a whole new deal for college football, quite literally.
Negotiations then and now
Negotiations with elite players can start with what it takes to get the player to attend a certain camp and elevates to what it takes to get a visit to campus.
The public signing ceremony is the grand prize. It’s a fair assumption schools remain invested into that, quite literally.
And now, as witnessed on Good Morning America, returning players are not shy about initiating negotiations to return.
Part of the reason Georgia won the 2021 CFP Championship was players like Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, James Cook, Jamaree Salyer and Jake Camarda choosing to return for another season.
The addition of transfers Daniels (USC) and Derion Kendrick (Clemson) certainly helped, too.
But now the door is swinging the other way at Georgia with marquee players and former 5-star recruits on their way out.
The wind is blowing harder at the top of the flag pole, as Smart suggested it would.
And players, just like their coaches, are serving their own best interests.
Spring football, and college football in general, is a whole new deal.