Troy Vincent heard the hard-luck stories.
In 2009, Sports Illustrated published a staggering article that said 78 percent of NFL players would become bankrupt, divorced or unemployed within 2 years of retirement.
Vincent, the defensive back from Trenton who spent most of his 15-year NFL career starring for the Eagles, shared locker rooms with guys who he knew had ended up in those type of situations.
Changing things like that was why he became active in the NFL Players Association, first as a team representative and then as president from 2004 to 2008.
But a year after the Sports Illustrated story came out, Vincent says he found out the stats were a myth.
In 2010, shortly after he had been hired as vice president of the NFL's Active Player Development program, Vincent began researching the subject to find out how to better solve the problems.
"Some of those numbers about bankruptcy and divorce are myths that we've had to dispel," said Vincent, a three-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection with the Eagles. "What we did find, however, was that a lot of guys were not transitioning as successfully as they should have been.
"After doing the fact-finding, what we've seen is that most [former players] are financially stable when they first retire. They just don't have a clear direction on what is their career path.
"They get stuck. They end up kind of sitting around, trying to readjust to the new lifestyle of being at home.
"Then suddenly, 4 or 5 years have passed, there has been no residual income coming in, you've lived off of your savings and then you say, 'What do I do now?' But the world has kind of passed you by."
That's when Vincent's vision of what he wanted to accomplish in his new position became clear. In March 2011, the Players Development organization was rechristened the NFL Player Engagement Organization.
It became a multi-tiered concept encompassing the entire life of the football player:
NFL PREP focuses on high school and college athletes, providing young athletes with tools to succeed.
NFL LIFE focuses on NFL current players, providing professional-development resources, while supporting and educating players' families to take full advantage of NFL support services.
NFL NEXT focuses on former NFL players, challenging them to think about the "next step" and providing services that foster successful transition from the playing field to life after football.
Under Vincent's leadership, the NFL has developed programs focusing on academics, financial literacy, character development, conflict management, communication, health, safety and nutrition.
"These are components that kind of intertwine at every level," said Vincent, who played with the Eagles from 1996 to 2004. "These are all things that you have to apply to be successful in life.
"We had some great programs when I was playing, but I never felt we were in the prevention business. If you want a better product and you want your players to be better role models, I always felt we had to develop those individuals.
"Right now, we just inherit whatever [college football] creates. What we want to do is to use our brand name to touch young men earlier, really helping to make a whole person.
"There are plenty of people to develop the athlete on the field. But how do we embrace the entire man? Develop good people who will be your neighbor in your community? Good husbands, good fathers?
"How do you help someone become socially conscious and aware of the world around him, not just what's going on in his personal silo?"
It's not always easy to try to get those who feel they are invincible to understand that they again will be mortal - often sooner than they might ever expect.
Most NFL players don't sign $100 million, $50 million or even $10 million contracts. Bloomberg Businessweek reported in January that the median NFL salary was only $770,000, meaning a lot of guys make only about $250,000 to $300,000 to balance out those $10 million-a-year deals.
Making one of the NFL minimums for a couple of seasons won't set you up for life. But it's hard to get active players to see that.
"You have young men who are living out their dreams," Vincent said. "When you're living out your dream, you're not thinking about that one play that could end it.
"Getting someone to see tomorrow and not just live in today is probably our greatest challenge as a league.
"Talking to a 22-year-old about family, wife, children, 401(k)s, college saving funds, parent/teacher day at school, conflict resolution without getting physical, communicating with future co-workers and bosses is extremely difficult.
"I was that 22-year-old once. I understand. But the one thing we know is that all of our numbers will one day be called. The reality is that the decisions you make today will impact you for the next 55 years of your life.
"If the average career is 5 or 6 years, by the time they are done playing, they are still just 26 or 27. The average lifespan of a male in the United States is 74 years."
From the day he was drafted seventh overall by the Miami Dolphins in 1992, Vincent kept something in mind that his coach at Wisconsin, Barry Alvarez, always told him.
"Coach Alvarez would always take me aside and say, 'This is not a career, young man. You don't make playing the game a career - coaching, yes; playing, no,' " Vincent said. "So even when I was drafted and had some kind of security, it was about what is that life going to look like when I'm done."
As that time approached, Vincent - the only player to have won collectively the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year, NFLPA Byron Whizzer White Award, The Sporting News #1 Good Guy and NFL Athletes in Action Bart Starr Award - probably thought he would be in an executive position with the NFLPA, negotiating against the NFL for player rights.
But in 2009, when Vincent was one of the finalists to replace the late Gene Upshaw as executive director, the NFLPA hired outside legal counsel to investigate allegations from anonymous sources that in 2007 Vincent had essentially betrayed the organization by releasing privileged information for his own business gains.
Further detailed investigations found no evidence to support that contention.
Although his character and good name were vindicated, Vincent's candidacy and his career with NFLPA were done.
"As I look back, I had to go through that life experience because it prepared me for today," Vincent said. "I was in a political arena, and I saw the way politics work.
"I literally went from being a hero to becoming a zero. I gave 12 years of my life to an organization that totally kind of just put me out on the street.
"But it brought me here. It wasn't easy. It tested my faith, but it prepared me for where I am now. I am touching more players today than ever before, more people, having much greater impact."
Still, Vincent said he understood that the NFLPA viewed him as part of the opposition during the lockout.
"During the negotiations, I was one that they considered came over to [NFL management] to divide the players," Vincent said. "That was ludicrous.
"But today we've got a 10-year deal that is done. If there are people in the NFLPA focusing on me being on the other side instead of focusing on me collaborating with them to help to develop players both on and off the field, I can't worry about that. I'm in the business of helping players and their families."
Vincent said the NFL Engagement Program has become his post-playing-days calling.
"I love what I do," he said. "We are robust in our efforts.
"The services and the programs to assist are there. Honestly, today, considering all of the tools and devices that are in place, a player would have to make a conscious decision not to succeed in transitioning into the NFL, having a wonderful playing experience, no matter how long that is, and then transitioning out.
"There are just too many services the clubs and the league offer for things to not work. We just have to get the guys to engage with us."
Send email to email@example.com.
For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/Smallwood.