NEW YORK — New playbooks, teammates and coaches are the focus of the day. Buying air mattresses, scanning house listings, and securing short-term leases are tasks to be done the rest of the time.
Finding a home – on and off the field – can be an overwhelming chore for many NFL players. Especially in an upside-down league where job security is far from guaranteed.
The team you play for today may not be the team you play for tomorrow. You’ll need to hand over your game manual – and your keys – and hit the road.
“The worst thing is moving,” New York Jets left guard Laken Tomlinson said.
Dealing with real estate agents, lawyers, mortgage brokers and foreclosures in a new city is stressful enough. For NFL players, juggling the uncertainty of their professional situation makes it even more nerve-wracking.
“It’s definitely about wearing down the relationships you have because obviously that’s a stressor in life, finding a place to live,” said Tomlinson, who was drafted by Detroit in 2015, traded to San Francisco two years later and signed with New York last March.
“As a young player, I think that’s part of the distraction,” added Tomlinson. “You have to deal with that and then you have to come to work. So the sooner you can deal with things like this the better.
Jets linebacker Quincy Williams was cut by Jacksonville last summer and claimed on waivers 24 hours later by New York. So he packed everything he owned – shirts, pants, jackets, and shoes – into his car and had his car shipped north.
“It was crazy,” Williams said. “Moving, especially in the height of the season, you don’t really have a lot of time to find a place or visit a lot of places.
Luckily for Williams, his brother Quinnen was now his teammate with the Jets. So he stayed in one of Quinnen’s spare rooms for a few months until he found an apartment near the team facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.
“Man, I got here and my rent is like $4,000 a month now for an apartment,” said Williams, who earned $850,000 last season and is making $2.54 million this year. “I went from renting in Florida to renting in New York.”
And he still had a lease on the five-bedroom house he rented in Jacksonville — and continued to pay around $3,000 a month for seven months until he could end it.
Not all players are as lucky as Williams to have a brother who plays on the same team. Or be in such a manageable financial situation.
NFL teams house players in hotels during mandatory minicamp in the spring and training camp in the summer. But the arrangements during voluntary training are the responsibility of the players. As part of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, players were paid $295 this offseason for each day they attended practices, up to $1,180 per week.
During training camp, players receive per diems: $1,700 for freshmen and $2,900 for returning players.
In the regular season, finding accommodation is left to the players.
“You still have to figure that out for yourself,” said Tennessee wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, who joined the Titans in 2020 as an undrafted free agent from Indiana. “It’s part of coming of age and coming of age.”
For undrafted rookies and roster bubble players, it’s hard to settle in a spot until you know you’ve made the team. That’s when the real research begins, with flexible leases – perhaps three or six months – on apartments a popular option.
“It’s definitely a stressful thing, a stressful situation just because you don’t know what could happen, what’s happening,” said rookie linebacker David Anenih, who was on Tennessee’s practice squad. — and in a flexible lease — when he was interviewed for this story, but has since been signed to Pittsburgh’s active roster.
Not all NFL rookies have to look for housing.
Browns cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. was approached by his new owner, former Cleveland safety Damarious Randall, who bought property while playing for the team in 2018-19 and had it rented.
“He had talked to some other guys on the team and wanted to see if they wanted to stay there,” said Emerson, a third-round draft pick from Mississippi State. “He told me he wanted someone in charge and he knew he wasn’t going to party and mess up the house.”
Randall is retired from gambling and lives in Las Vegas.
“He doesn’t check with me,” Emerson said. “But I have to send him a check.”
And once a player finds housing, filling it with furniture can take a while.
“All I have is really like a chair, an air mattress and all my stuff,” said Green Bay wide receiver Samori Toure, a seventh-round rookie pick from Nebraska. “It’s a good air mattress.”
Wives, fiancées, girlfriends and boyfriends often provide tremendous help in finding housing – and decorating. Most teams’ support staff also help players connect with real estate agents and housing contacts.
But some players avoid the headaches of a house search altogether.
“When I was at Indy, I was just in a hotel the whole time,” said Seattle safety Josh Jones, who played for the Colts most of last season. “They were like, it’s going to be a certain amount every week and I was like, OK, I’m going to stay here.
“I just felt like I wasn’t going to be there for long – and just to not put myself in this predicament of having a place and having to move all that stuff.”
Oh, and finding a teammate to help split the costs isn’t usually a particularly popular game.
“Grown men don’t want to have roommates like they’re still in college,” said Detroit defensive back AJ Parker, who is on the Lions practice squad.
Players with families have other aspects to consider that younger, single teammates might overlook.
Jets left tackle George Fant said school systems were the determining factor in where he, his wife Chastity and their three children found a home in New Jersey after he was signed in 2020.
Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone rents a townhouse — where he, his wife Lindsey and their son Cooper live — a 20-minute drive from the team facility.
“We travel in packs,” Anzalone said. “Some people do the long-distance thing. My son is 19 months so he changes every week and I don’t want to miss that.
Minnesota long snapper Andrew DePaola broke into the NFL in 2014 with Tampa Bay. When kicker Connor Barth was cut at the end of training camp that year, DePaola temporarily moved into Barth’s house. He slept on the sofa cushions in the otherwise empty house for a few weeks until the sale closed and he must have been away for good.
DePaola bounced back with the Bears, Raiders and Panthers before joining the Vikings in the 2020 season. He married during that time and he and his wife have two young children.
“We would love to be able to stay here,” said DePaola, who still maintains an off-season home in his home state of Maryland.
Because putting away those boxes and suitcases again could always be the next piece.
“No matter what my housing situation is,” Toure said, “I have to make sure I play football first and play when I’m in the building.”